What Are Nominal Damages?

When you file a lawsuit against a party, you may be able to recover a variety of damages.  The damages depend on the circumstances of the lawsuit, along with how much the plaintiff, also known as the party filing the lawsuit, has suffered.

Specifically, in personal injury cases, a plaintiff will file a claim against the defendant for property damage or for bodily injury or physical harm. This requires an extensive amount of evidence, which can only be gathered by a top rated and experienced attorney. However, sometimes, the court may determine that the plaintiff does not have strong evidence to assert these damages, but the defendant is liable. In this specific case, the court will then issue nominal damages. Usually, nominal damages are awarded when the plaintiff does not have enough evidence for damages claim, or has not suffered any actual injuries.

One of the most important elements the plaintiff must claim in a personal injury lawsuit is that they have suffered damages. If the plaintiff does not have damages, the court will most likely dismiss it. But if there is some type of negligent action on behalf of the defendant, and the court wants to punish the defendant for it, they may issue nominal damages. For more assistance on filing a personal injury lawsuit, and making sure that you have strong evidence for damages, contact our top-rated accident attorneys today for a free case evaluation.

Many clients who are filing a lawsuit may not realize the amount of damages they have incurred until they talk to our attorneys. Our car accident attorneys will be able to raise several different types of damages, such as future lost income that the plaintiff may not have even thought of when they thought about their injuries suffered. Usually, plaintiffs think about their past injuries rather than their future damages. Future damages are damages that could be compensated by the defendant.

What are damages?

Damages are monetary compensation awarded to the plaintiff in a civil lawsuit. For example, damages could include:

  • Property damage: this is most likely awarded in accidents, such as car accidents, train accidents, pedestrian accidents, etc. 

  • Pain and suffering: this is only awarded in circumstances when the plaintiff has suffered emotional distress from their injuries. If the injuries are severe, they most likely will cause the plaintiff to suffer severe emotional distress as well.

  • Medical bills: this is awarded in almost every single personal injury lawsuit. In personal injury cases, the plaintiff most likely will suffer some type of injury, which may have needed treatment by a medical provider. Treatments can be costly, and the plaintiff could have thousands of dollars in medical bills. 

Before damages are awarded in a civil trial case, the court will take a look and determine what the plaintiff’s actual damages are. They will review the evidence at hand and determine whether there is strong evidence to prove the actual damages that the plaintiff has suffered.

Our car accident attorneys are available 24/7 to help you with your personal injury claims, and we’ll fight endlessly to make sure that you get the damages you deserve. Having the right attorney will help you file your claim against the negligent party. If you hire an inexperienced attorney, they may not be able to collect adequate evidence to assert injury damages. We have connections with top rated experts, which will help us determine the severity of your injuries, along with the monetary damages you may need in the future.

Why were nominal damages created?

The legal theory of nominal damages was created because the court wanted to hold the defendant responsible for their actions. The court would want to acknowledge that the plaintiff asserted a rightful claim, but in fact did not suffer any large losses. In this case, the court will award a small sum to the plaintiff simply because they won the lawsuit, rather than because they needed the money. Sometimes, nominal damages may be used to cover the cost of hiring an attorney.

Why are nominal damages awarded?

The two major circumstances as to why nominal damages may be awarded by the court include:

  • When the plaintiff has not asserted damages
  • When the plaintiff has not suffered any type of property damage or physical loss

Why should you file a claim for nominal damages?

If you believe that a defendant should be held responsible for their actions, but you have not suffered any type of financial losses, you may pursue a nominal damage claim against the defendant for some form of compensation. If you are unable to prove your loss, but want the court to rule in your favor, then you most likely should file a nominal damages claim.

Examples of why plaintiffs may file a nominal damages claim are: 

  • To be able to recover punitive damages from the defendant: in certain circumstances when the defendant’s behavior is malicious, such as in drunk driving accidents, the court may award punitive damages against the defendant. Even if the plaintiff has not suffered a large financial loss, the defendant’s actions were so egregious that the court wanted to step in and award punitive damages.

  • To win a lawsuit against the defendant:  the plaintiff may just be after getting a successful lawsuit rather than getting financial compensation. Having the court rule on the claim that you have filed will help you in the future. For example, if your neighbor has trespassed on your property, but has not caused any type of damage on your land, you may file a claim for nominal damages. Having the court rule in your favor will be beneficial to you to prevent the neighbor from going onto your property again. You can point to the court ruling to stop them from trespassing. This is a circumstance where the plaintiff just wants proof that they were right, rather than financial compensation.


One of the most common claims for nominal damages are for contracts. This includes circumstances where a contract has just recently been drafted, and the damages are still too soon to tell. For example, if a new business contracted with a third party to purchase some type of goods, but the goods were never delivered, then there may not be adequate evidence to show the businesses lost profits. In that case, the court may award nominal damages to the plaintiff because the plaintiffs suffered no loss, but they are in the right. 

Attorney’s Fees

Nominal damages are most likely awarded to compensate the plaintiff for the costs of their legal fees. Usually, legal fees could be thousands of dollars, and the plaintiff may have incurred those types of damages when filing their claim. 

Contact our attorneys for a free case evaluation to review your claim and determine the compensation that you may need. Oftentimes, many ask us to give them an idea as to how much their claim is worth. We will only be able to estimate the value and worth of your claim once we take a look at all the details involving your accident claim. Call us today to schedule a free consultation, and to discuss your case with our experienced legal team. 

We are available 24/7 via phone and email, and have our attorneys on standby to assist you throughout the entire claims process. For more information, contact our attorneys. You want to have a top lawyer representing you throughout the entire experience and making sure that you get the assistance you deserve. 

We have offices located in several cities such as Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, etc. We are also available with remote conferencing so you can speak to us from the comfort of your own home.

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