California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI) (2017)

360. Nominal Damages

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360.Nominal Damages
If you decide that [name of defendant] breached the contract but also
that [name of plaintiff] was not harmed by the breach, you may still
award [him/her/it] nominal damages such as one dollar.
New September 2003
Sources and Authority
• Nominal Damages. Civil Code section 3360.
• “A plaintiff is entitled to recover nominal damages for the breach of a contract,
despite inability to show that actual damage was inflicted upon him, since the
defendant’s failure to perform a contractual duty is, in itself, a legal wrong that
is fully distinct from the actual damages. The maxim that the law will not be
concerned with trifles does not, ordinarily, apply to violation of a contractual
right. Accordingly, nominal damages, which are presumed as a matter of law to
stem merely from the breach of a contract may properly be awarded for the
violation of such a right. And, by statute, such is also the rule in California.”
(Sweet v. Johnson (1959) 169 Cal.App.2d 630, 632–633 [337 P.2d 499], internal
citations omitted.)
• “With one exception . . . an unbroken line of cases holds that nominal damages
are limited to an amount of a few cents or a dollar.” (Avina v. Spurlock (1972)
28 Cal.App.3d 1086, 1089 [105 Cal.Rptr. 198], internal citations omitted.)
Secondary Sources
1 Witkin, Summary of California Law (10th ed. 2005) Contracts, § 878
15 California Forms of Pleading and Practice, Ch. 177, Damages, §§ 177.14,
177.71 (Matthew Bender)
1 Matthew Bender Practice Guide: California Contract Litigation, Ch. 7, Seeking or
Opposing Damages in Contract Actions, 7.04[11]