What Are Nominal Damages?
Nominal damages are a form of “compensation” that a court might award you if someone endangered you by behaving irresponsibly even though you suffered negligible actual harm.
The standard sum courts award for nominal damages is $1. Nominal damages are a court’s way of saying, “Yes, you are right” to your claim without awarding you any real compensation. Believe it or not, sometimes there are sound legal reasons for seeking nominal damages.
Other Types of Damages Under Florida Personal Injury Law
Florida personal injury law offers two other types of damages, compensatory and punitive.
Non-economic damages include intangible losses such as emotional distress and pain and suffering. Compensatory damages are by far the most commonly awarded form of damages.
The purpose of punitive damages is to punish the defendant for outrageous behavior, such as committing an intentional tort involving violence. Courts award punitive damages only occasionally, even when the victim wins compensatory damages.
Examples of Scenarios in Which Courts Award Nominal Damages
Courts are likely to award nominal damages, if at all, under the following circumstances:
- Minor injuries with no significant physical or financial harm.
- Technical assault without physical harm: Even if someone cocks their fist at you, that constitutes assault if you have reason to believe they are about to punch you (actually punching you would be battery).
- Invasion of your privacy without significant emotional distress or financial loss.
- Defamation without harm to your reputation or emotional state.
- Negligence with negligible quantifiable damages.
In most cases such as these, the judge is likely to simply dismiss your claim rather than award nominal damages. Dismissal is not a certainty, however.
Why Seek Nominal Damages?
People demand nominal damages for a variety of reasons, including:
- To use a lawsuit for nominal damages as a platform to seek punitive damages (see below).
- To establish a legal precedent.
- For public vindication in a high-profile case.
- To prove you were right for personal reasons.
- To prevent future lawsuits over the same case.
- As a legal strategy in complex cases.
One reason that probably will not motivate you is the prospect of receiving $1 from the defendant.
Nominal Damages as a Platform for Punitive Damages
Punitive damages are unique in that you cannot win them without proving your entitlement to some other form of damages first-–typically, compensatory damages.
Florida law, however, allows you to win punitive damages on top of nominal damages. This would allow you to seek, for example, $1 in nominal damages and $100,000 in punitive damages.
Limitations on Punitive Damages
Florida limits punitive damages to triple the amount of compensatory damages or $500,000, whichever is greater.
A claim is a right to damages, while a lawsuit is a procedure for obtaining those damages. Instead of filing a lawsuit, you might seek to resolve your claim through private settlement. A defendant is unlikely to agree to pay you punitive damages. Meanwhile, $1 in nominal damages will be useless to you, even for purposes such as public vindication, if the defendant refuses to admit wrongdoing.
For these reasons, it doesn’t make any sense to try to settle a claim for nominal damages.
Nominal Damages and Legal Fees
Courts will sometimes award legal fees in addition to the standard $1 in nominal damages. It wouldn’t make any sense, of course, to file a lawsuit if all you are seeking is nominal damages plus legal fees. This is because you wouldn’t have incurred these fees in the first place if you hadn’t been seeking nominal damages.
Nevertheless, nominal damages plus legal fees is a soft cushion to land on if you fail in your quest for compensatory damages.
Nominal Damages and Florida’s No-Fault System for Car Accidents
Nominal damages do not figure into no-fault auto accident claims. The PIP insurance that generally awards damages in Florida car accidents pays only compensatory damages, not nominal damages.
The primary (but not only) way out of PIP is if your injuries were “serious” under Florida law, in which case you would qualify for compensatory damages, not nominal damages.
Talk to an Attorney About Your Legal Options
If you plan on seeking nominal damages, talk to a Gainesville personal injury attorney about it. If you are not seeking anything more than $1 in nominal damages, you will have trouble finding an attorney who will represent you on a contingency fee basis.
It might be different, however, if you are seeking nominal damages as a platform for punitive damages. Talk to a lawyer and see.
Contact Our Gainesville Personal Injury Lawyers
If you need legal assistance, contact the Gainesville personal injury lawyers from Allen Law Firm, P.A. at (877) 255-3652. We offer a free consultation so you can have your case assessed and evaluated by an experienced professional.