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Damages, Liquidated


Law and Sea.
Nominal damages

In every breach of contract or an infringement of an absolute right the law presumes that some damage will flow in the ordinary course of things from the mere invasion of the claimant’s right. Every such breach therefore gives rise to a claim for damages, even when the claimant has not suffered any loss as a result of the breach, he is still entitled to recover damages, in which case, damages awarded will be nominal.

Damages, Nominal
Last updated: 21-Jun-2015

Holt CJ in Ashby v White (1704) 2 Ld. Raym. 938, replying to Powell Judge, who was insisting that an action upon the case is not maintainable, because there is no hurt or damage to the plaintiff said:

[B]ut surely every injury imports a damage, though it does not cost the party one farthing, and it is impossible to prove the contrary; for a damage is not merely pecuniary, but an injury imports a damage, when a man is thereby hindered of his right. As in an action for slanderous words, though a man does not lose a penny by reason of the speaking them, yet he shall have an action. So if a man gives another a cuff on the ear, though it cost him nothing, not so much as a little diachylon, yet he shall have his action, for it is a personal injury. So a man shall have an action against another for riding; over his ground, though it do him no damage; for it is an invasion of his property, and the other has no right to come there;

Marzetti v Williams (1830) 1 B & Ad 415, per Lord Tenterden CJ said at p.424:

Now this action is, in fact, founded on a contract, for the banker does contract with his customer that he will pay checks drawn by him, provided he, the banker, has money in his hands belonging to that customer. Here that contract was broken, for the defendants would not pay the check of the plaintiff, although they had in their hands money belonging to him, and had had a reasonable time to know that such was the fact. [A]nd the plaintiff, though he may have not sustained a damage in fact, is entitled to recover nominal damages. At the same time I cannot forbear to observe, that it is a discredit to a person, and therefore injurious in fact, to have a draft refused payment for so small a sum, for it shows that the banker has very little confidence in the customer. It is an act particularly calculated to be injurious to a person in trade.

Twyman v Knowles (1853) 13 CB 222, per Maule J at p.224:

[T]o entitle himself to more than nominal damages, the plaintiff was bound to shew the quantum of the interest he had in the land. He had the means of shewing it, for, he had a lease in writing which defined it. The non-production of the lease raised a presumption that the production of it would do the plaintiff no good.

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