Nominal Damages – where no substantial loss occurs, however a tort or breach of contract occurred and the action is filed in order to make the existence of right known, so as to deter future violations

nominal damages:

1. A trifling sum awarded when a legal injury is suffered but there is no substantial loss or injury to be compensated.

2. A small amount fixed as damages for breach of contract without regard to the amount of harm. — aka contemptuous damages; diminutive damages. [1]

1. An award to which the plaintiff is entitled, although he gives no evidence of any particular amount of law, because the law infers damages from the breach of an agreement or the invasion of a right.  Ferreira v Honolulu Star Bulletin Ltd. 44 Hawaii 567, 356 P2d 651, reh den 44 Hawaii 581, 357 P2d 112.

1. Damages recoverable where a legal right is to be vindicated against an invasion that has produced no actual present loss of any kind or where, from the nature of the case, some compensable injury has been shown but the amount of that injury has not been proved.  22 Am J2d Damg § 5. [2]

1. Damages awarded to a plaintiff in a very small or merely symbolic amount.  Such damages are appropriate in a situation where:

(1) although a legal right has been violated, no actual damages have been incurred, but the law recognizes the need to vindicate the plaintiff (see vindictive damages); or
(2) some compensable injury has been shown, but the amount of that injury has not been proven. [3]

     Excerpt from Charles T. McCormick’s Handbook on the Law of Damages (1935):

     “Nominal damages are damages awarded for the infraction of a legal right, where the extent of the loss is not shown, or where the right is one not dependent upon loss or damage, as in the case of rights of bodily immunity or rights to have one’s material property undisturbed by direct invasion.  The award of nominal damages is made as a judicial declaration that the plaintiff’s right has been violated. [4]

     Excerpt from S.M. Waddams’ The Law Of Damages (3d ed. 1997):

     “Nominal damages are awarded if the plaintiff establishes a breach of contract or a tort of the kind that is said to be ‘actionable per se’ but fails to establish a loss caused by the wrong.  In the case of tort not actionable per se as, for example, negligence, if the plaintiff fails to establish a loss, the action will be dismissed.  The practical significance of a judgment for nominal damages is that the plaintiff thereby establishes a legal right.  The judgment has the effect of a declaration of legal rights and may deter future infringements or may enable the plaintiff to obtain an injunction to restrain a repetition of‘ the wrong.  The obtaining of nominal damages will also, in many cases, entitle a plaintiff to costs . . . . [Also,] nominal damages might serve as a peg upon which to hang an award 0f exemplary damages.[5]


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[1]: Black’s Law Dictionary Deluxe Tenth Edition by Henry Campbell Black, Editor in Chief Bryan A. Garner. ISBN: 978-0-314-61300-4

[2]: Ballantine’s Law Dictionary with Pronunciations
Third Edition by James A. Ballantine (James Arthur 1871-1949).  Edited by William S. Anderson.  © 1969 by THE LAWYER’S CO-OPERATIVE PUBLISHING COMPANY.  Library of Congress Catalog Card No. 68-30931

[3]: Ballantine’s Law Dictionary Legal Assistant Edition by Jack Ballantine (James Arthur 1871-1949).  Doctored by Jack G. Handler, J.D. © 1994 Delmar by Thomson Learning.  ISBN 0-8273-4874-6.

[4]: Charles T. McCormick, Handbook on the Law of Damages § 20, at 85 (1935)

[5]: S.M. Waddams, The Law Of Damages 477-78 (3d ed. 1997)


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