Stephen Hasner | Personal Injury | 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.
Nominal Damages as Legal Precedent
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.
Legal Fees as Nominal Damages
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
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