When Are Nominal Damages Awarded?

In many lawsuits, plaintiffs seek compensatory damages to pay for losses caused by a defendant’s actions or negligence. But not everyone goes to court to seek a large monetary award. We’ll explain when nominal damages are awarded and what they mean.

What Does It Mean to Receive Nominal Damages?

Nominal damages are awarded when the plaintiff has not suffered any substantial losses. The goal is to establish that their legal rights have been violated. Your award simply means you are legally in the right. 

The circumstances in which you receive nominal damages may be as follows. You may be seeking compensation but lack evidence to prove your claim. By awarding nominal damages, the court may be opening the door to pursue further legal action or put the mistreatment you received on record. Other reasons to pursue nominal damages include: 

  • If you’ve been victimized but didn’t suffer any physical losses.
  • To set the basis to recover attorneys’ fees.
  • To establish a hook to receive a punitive damages award.

How Much Can I Get When Nominal Damages Are Awarded?

Nominal damages may be as little as $1. However, the court can determine an amount based on the case and the plaintiff’s claims. The amount is often symbolic. It merely represents the court’s acknowledgment your rights were violated. But the plaintiff generally isn’t seeking a specific amount. In some cases, plaintiffs have received nominal awards of $5, $100, etc.

You can pursue such an award if certain state or federal law rights have been violated. In the 2021 case, Uzuegbunam v. Preczewski, the Supreme Court decided nominal damages could be awarded to student plaintiffs after a Georgia college changed its policy prohibiting the distribution of religious literature on campus. The school wasn’t punished for the earlier policy. Instead, the case looked at whether the violation ended and was unlikely to recur. Whether the plaintiffs would receive nominal damages was to be decided by other courts.

Nominal Damages Aren’t the Only Way to Respect the Plaintiff’s Dignity

Courts can resolve certain legal claims to express respect. They often do so with discrimination claims. Resolving the case or issuing a declaratory judgment can benefit the dignity of the people involved. In a broader sense, the court is essentially restating the law and communicating that to an audience (in the process, it addresses those who want to feel heard). 

Therefore, the court has the means to express rather than dismiss harm to individuals’ dignity as insignificant. The harm isn’t a requisite for a substantial award. But those presenting their case in court aren’t left with incomplete judicial relief. 

How The Law Offices of Jacob Emrani Can Help

Our Los Angeles personal injury attorneys have sought and won substantial monetary awards for clients injured in automobile and other accidents. We know how to negotiate with insurance companies, connect plaintiffs with the medical care they need, and build a case to maximize your settlement. Whether a client has suffered a permanent injury or stands to benefit when nominal damages are awarded, we can help. Call (888) 952-2952 for your free consultation.

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Los Angeles, CA 90015


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Los Angeles

serving southern california


714 W. Olympic Blvd.
Suite 300
Los Angeles, CA 90015


(888) 508-5085