Stephen R. Hasner
Managing Partner at Hasner Law PC
April 28, 2023

In personal injury law, the term “damages” means the financial compensation you receive as a consequence of your injury or the defendant’s wrongdoing. Nominal damages are one type of damages, and they typically amount to a trivial sum. Nevertheless, they can still be useful for certain purposes.

The Three Main Types of Damages

Georgia offers three possible forms of damages: compensatory damages, punitive damages, and nominal damages. They work like this:

  • Compensatory damages: The purpose of compensatory damages is to reimburse you for your actual physical and emotional losses. Compensatory damages can be subdivided into economic damages and non-economic damages.     
  • Punitive damages: Georgia courts can award an additional sum of punitive damages if the defendant’s wrongdoing was intentional or reckless.
  • Nominal Damages:  Nominal damages, as mentioned above, are typically a trivial sum. In most cases, all the award of nominal damages does is to say, “The claimant was right, but they suffered no real harm.” A typical example of nominal damages is $1.00. 

You cannot add nominal damages to compensatory damages, but you can add punitive damages to compensatory damages

The Difference Between a Claim and a Lawsuit

A claim and a lawsuit aren’t the same thing. A claim is a mere abstract legal right to compensation. If you have a claim, you can usually file a lawsuit, but you don’t have to. 

Instead, you can seek a negotiated settlement – as long as the statute of limitations deadline to file a lawsuit hasn’t yet expired. 

If you so choose, you can proceed with a trial. Not many claimants are willing to suffer the time and expense of a trial, however, just for $1.00 in nominal damages. Something more needs to be at stake.

Under the US legal system, some law is made by the legislature, while other law is made by court precedent. Judge-made law is particularly common in personal injury law. Courts look to precedents established by courts of equal or higher rank to tell them how to rule in future cases with similar fact patterns. One of your purposes in seeking nominal damages might be to establish such a precedent.

A court might award far more than $1.00 in nominal damages under certain circumstances. More specifically, a court might order the defendant to pay your legal fees as “nominal damages.” These fees might add up to thousands of dollars. The reasoning behind such an award is that if the defendant hadn’t morally wronged you, you wouldn’t have needed to go to court in the first place.

Of course, it doesn’t make sense for a claimant to go all the way to trial seeking reimbursement of their legal fees. After all, these fees would never have arisen in the first place unless the claimant had gone to court.

Nominal Damages as a Hook for Punitive Damages

Georgia courts sometimes award punitive damages for defendant behavior that is outrageous.  Although the purpose of punitive damages is to punish the defendant rather than to compensate the victim, damages usually go to the defendant. In many cases, Georgia limits punitive damages to $250,000.

Suppose, for example, that a defendant deliberately forces your car into an extremely dangerous traffic situation in a fit of “road rage.” You might sue for nominal damages as a way of establishing the defendant’s liability and then tack on a claim of punitive damages based on this liability. 

Seek the Assistance of an Attorney

It doesn’t matter whether you are seeking nominal damages or trying to avoid them. Either way, your chances of success are better if you hire an experienced personal injury attorney to represent you. 

If you are unsure whether you need an attorney, schedule a free initial consultation to discuss your claim and options. Of course, if you seek only nominal damages, your claim might not generate any income. It is best to discuss your options with a personal injury lawyer before committing yourself to a lawsuit.

Contact the Atlanta Personal Injury Lawyers at Hasner Law, P.C. For Help

For more information, please contact the Atlanta personal injury law firm of Hasner Law P.C. at our nearest location to schedule a free consultation today.

We serve in Fulton County, Chatham County, and its surrounding areas:

Hasner Law PC – Atlanta Law Office
2839 Paces Ferry Rd SE #1050
Atlanta, GA 30339
(678) 888-4878

Hasner Law PC – Savannah Law Office
221 W York St
Savannah, GA 31401
(912) 234-2334

Author Stephen Headshot
Managing Partner at Hasner Law PC
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Stephen Hasner is the founder and managing partner of Hasner Law PC. Since being licensed in Florida in 1997 and in Georgia in 1999, Stephen has worked tirelessly to help Georgia residents navigate the legal process following a serious injury. This includes injuries sustained at work, in motor vehicle accidents, and in cases of personal injury. The team at Hasner Law is dedicated to securing compensation for their clients who have been injured through no fault of their own.