Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility
Miami, Florida

Miami Personal Injury Blog

Get a free consultation now

What Are Nominal Damages?

What Are Nominal Damages?

Normally, the plaintiff in a personal injury lawsuit will seek compensatory damages (medical expenses, pain and suffering, and more). Sometimes, they might also seek punitive damages

Once in a while, a party might seek nominal damages. Nominal damages typically add up to $1, or $1 plus legal fees. Most often, it is a court’s way of saying, “You are right, but you didn’t prove that you suffered any harm.” 

Examples of Scenarios in Which Courts Award Nominal Damages

A court may or may not award nominal damages under the following circumstances.:

  • In a medical malpractice case, a procedure deviates from standard care but does not result in significant injury.
  • In an assault case where, the defendant threatened the plaintiff, but the plaintiff suffered no actual injuries or psychological harm.
  • The plaintiff proved negligence, but the plaintiff’s injuries were limited to minor scratches or bruises with no medical expenses.
  • A civil assault case where the defendant cocked his fist but did not swing. A court might award nominal damages to recognize the plaintiff’s fear or distress despite the absence of physical contact.
  • Where a doctor falsely diagnoses a patient with a terminal illness, thereby causing severe emotional distress but no physical harm. A court might award nominal damages to acknowledge the wrongful act and the emotional impact on the patient.

Instead of awarding nominal damages, the court might simply dismiss the claim.

Why Might a Party Seek Only Nominal Damages?

Why would a party bother to take a case to court for $1? There are several possible reasons:

  • To establish a legal right or principle: When the principle is more important than monetary compensation, a plaintiff may seek nominal damages to establish that their legal rights were violated, even if they did not suffer a significant financial loss.
  • To provide the plaintiff with vindication. The plaintiff might be seeking nothing more than an official statement that they were in the right and the defendant was in the wrong. 
  • To set a legal precedent: Obtaining a judgment that acknowledges a legal wrong can set a legal precedent, even if the financial compensation is minimal. This can be particularly important in cases involving civil rights, defamation, or property disputes. A precedent can affect the outcome of future cases.
  • To trigger other forms of relief: In some cases, being awarded nominal damages can lead to other forms of relief, such as injunctive relief (a court order to do or stop doing something) or punitive damages.

There are several other reasons why a plaintiff might seek only nominal damages.

Hiring a Lawyer: Fee Arrangements in Nominal Damages Cases

Most of the time, personal injury lawyers work on a contingency fee basis, which means legal fees amount to 30% to 40% of the total value of a claim. If the claim’s value is $1, that adds up to only a few cents. 

Most lawyers will not be terribly eager to take a claim if they can only earn a few cents from the representation. Possible alternative arrangements include: 

  • Billable hours: An hourly rate, typically several hundred dollars an hour
  • A flat fee, if the amount of work involved is predictable
  • Pro bono representation: “Pro bono” means that your lawyer works for free, typically for the sake of a cause or to help a low-income plaintiff obtain legal representation

Make sure you clarify payment arrangements in writing before you proceed with the case. The last surprise you need is an unexpected legal bill due to a misunderstood expectation. Read your fee agreement carefully.

Contact Our Personal Injury Law Firm in Miami, FL

It’s not only about money–it’s also about justice. If you’ve been wronged, it’s important that you seek justice. This applies in many cases, even if you only qualify for nominal damages. 

If you’ve been injured in an accident in Miami, FL and need legal help, contact our Miami personal injury lawyers at Shaked Law Personal Injury Lawyers to schedule a free consultation.

Shaked Law Personal Injury Lawyers
20900 NE 30th Ave Suite 715
Aventura, FL 33180
(305) 937-0191