Nominal Damages Definition and Legal Meaning

On this page, you'll find the legal definition and meaning of Nominal Damages, written in plain English, along with examples of how it is used.

What is Nominal Damages?

It refers to a small compansation or small amount of money paid to the plaintiff who has suffered a very minor damage or loss due to a misconduct or wrongful action of the defendant, As a token of honour to the rights of the plaintiff, which was harmed but the extent of damage being very small or not determined, the court awards a small token amount from the defendant.

History and Meaning of Nominal Damages

Nominal damages are a small amount of money awarded to the plaintiff in a lawsuit where the plaintiff has suffered little to no actual damages or losses. The purpose of awarding nominal damages is to show that the plaintiff's rights have been violated, even if the harm suffered was minimal. This is often done in cases where the plaintiff has proven liability on the part of the defendant, but cannot prove any actual damages.

The concept of nominal damages has been around for centuries and is grounded in both common law and civil law traditions. Its purpose is to serve as a symbolic gesture to vindicate the plaintiff’s rights when clear violations have occurred, even where there is no significant financial damage that was caused by the defendant.

Examples of Nominal Damages

  1. A customer is charged a higher amount than advertised for a product. The court finds that the customer was indeed overcharged, but there is no evidence that they suffered any monetary damages as a result. In this case, the court may award nominal damages to the customer, as a symbolic gesture that their rights have been violated.

  2. A student is suspended from school for a minor infraction, but the suspension is later found to be unwarranted. The student has not suffered any actual monetary damages, but the unjust suspension has caused them emotional distress. A court may award nominal damages to the student to acknowledge the violation of their rights.

  3. A company’s trademark is infringed by another company, but there is no evidence that the infringement caused any actual harm to the company. The court may award nominal damages to the company to acknowledge the infringement and to prevent the infringing company from doing so again in the future.

Legal Terms Similar to Nominal Damages

  1. Punitive Damages - This is a type of damage awarded to plaintiff as a way of punishing a defendant for their conduct rather than to compensate the plaintiff. Punitive damages may be awarded in cases involving intentional misconduct or behavior that is grossly negligent.

  2. Compensatory Damages - This is a type of damage awarded to plaintiffs to compensate them for the actual monetary loss or harm they have suffered as a direct result of the defendant's actions.

  3. Liquidated Damages – Liquidated damages are a predetermined fixed amount of monetary compensation that parties agree to in advance of a potential breach of contract. This is sometimes preferable to the uncertainly and inefficiency of assessing actual damages to the plaintiff in the event of a breach.

  4. General Damages - General damages are a category of damages intended to compensate plaintiffs for non-monetary losses which cannot be easily calculated. This might include compensation for pain and suffering, mental anguish, reputation damage and/or future earnings capacity.