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What Are Nominal Damages?


If you have a personal injury claim against someone, you will probably file a claim against them for economic damages, non-economic damages, and perhaps even punitive damages

Now imagine suing a defendant for nominal damages, such as one dollar. Why would you want to do that? In reality, people do it every day for various reasons.

Common Reasons for Seeking Nominal Damages

People seek nominal damages for many reasons. In almost all cases, they cannot prove economic damages or non-economic damages.

  • Principle: “It’s the principle of the thing.” You might just want to prove you’re right, regardless of money. Beware, however, because if you cannot demonstrate an injury, you run the risk of dismissal of your claim due to “lack of standing.” 
  • Legal Precedent: Winning a case sets a legal precedent for equal and inferior courts. Setting this legal precedent might be more important to you than winning money because it results in a permanent change in the law.
  • Court Costs and Attorney Fees: Florida law allows you to win attorney’s fees based on nominal damages. Statutory law or contract terms must authorize the award of attorney’s fees.
  • Deterrence: You might want to deter the defendant from pursuing a certain course of action. 
  • Public Record: A court decision becomes part of the public record. This might be important to you for personal or professional reasons.
  • Punitive Damages: You might not qualify for either economic or non-economic damages but want to pursue your claim anyway. You might ultimately seek, for example, $1 in nominal damages and $100,000 in punitive damages. This is a possible outcome under Florida law, although it doesn’t happen very often. Punitive damages are difficult to establish.

Of course, there are many more reasons to seek punitive damages.

Typical Scenarios in Which Someone Might Seek Nominal Damages

The following scenarios might prompt you to seek nominal damages:

  • Trespass to Land: You might sue someone for harmless trespassing just to assert your ownership of the land.
  • Battery: Battery is an offensive or harmful touching. You might assert a battery claim against someone who was trying to intimidate you by pushing you around, even if you suffered no pain or injury.
  • Defamation:  You might sue someone who defamed you in a way that harmed your reputation but caused you no financial losses  Alternatively, you might sue someone even if nobody believed the defendant’s defamatory statements about you. To do otherwise might signal tacit agreement with the statements.
  • Constitutional Violations: You might seek nominal damages in a civil rights case. Suppose, for example, that the police pulled your car over at a sobriety checkpoint due to racial profiling. Your constitutional rights were violated, but you cannot prove physical, financial, or emotional harm.
  • Breach of Contract: If the other party breaches a personal injury settlement agreement but no substantial financial loss occurs, you might seek nominal damages to confirm your rights.

If you are considering seeking nominal damages, consult with an attorney about your chances of victory. Who knows? You might even qualify for economic or non-economic damages. 

Fee Arrangements

If you’re seeking only nominal damages, it’s too much to ask a personal injury lawyer to bill you on a contingency fee basis. Offering to pay a lawyer 30% of a dollar (but only if they win the case) is not going to raise a lot of enthusiasm unless the lawyer’s motivation is something other than money. Instead, lawyers work under the following arrangements:

  • Billable hours: “Billable hours” means an hourly rate Most lawyers charge several hundred dollars an hour for legal work.
  • Flat fee: A lawyer might offer to handle your case for a certain pre-agreed dollar amount such as $2,500, if the amount of work in your case is predictable. 
  • Pro bono representation:Pro bono” means free of charge. Florida encourages its lawyers to perform a certain number of pro bono hours per year as an act of public service. Instead of working for a few cents, why not just work for free?
    The Florida Bar encourages its lawyers to perform at least a few hours of pro bono work every year. A lawyer might agree to represent you free of charge for the sake of a cause they believe in or to help a low-income plaintiff. 

When you speak to a lawyer about representing you in a nominal damages case, you probably need to bring up the fee issue first.

Contact a Clearwater Personal Injury Lawyer from Winters & Yonker Personal Injury Lawyers for Help Today

Whatever your reason for seeking nominal damages, hiring an experienced personal injury lawyer is likely to increase your odds of success. The good news is that most personal injury lawyers offer free initial consultations.

For more information, please contact Winters & Yonker Personal Injury Lawyers to schedule a free consultation with a personal injury lawyer in Clearwater today. We have five convenient locations in Florida, including Tampa, Clearwater, St. Petersburg, New Port Richey, and Lakeland.

We proudly serve Hillsborough County, Pinellas County, Pasco County, Polk County, and its surrounding areas:

Winters & Yonker Personal Injury Lawyers – Tampa Office
601 W Swann Ave, Tampa, FL 33606
(813) 223-6200

Winters & Yonker Personal Injury Lawyers – Clearwater Office
600 Bypass Dr Suite 224-D, Clearwater, FL 33764
(727) 493-4418

Winters & Yonker Personal Injury Lawyers – St. Petersburg Office
111 2nd Ave NE Suite 350, St. Petersburg, FL 33701
(727) 314-5988

Winters & Yonker Personal Injury Lawyers – New Port Richey Office
5006 Trouble Creek Rd Unit #200, Port Richey, FL 34652
(727) 910-5060

Winters & Yonker Personal Injury Lawyers – Lakeland Office
1543 Lakeland Hills Blvd Suite 18, Lakeland, FL 33805
(863) 251-6196

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