California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI)

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

  • Civil Code section 3360 provides: “When a breach of duty has caused no appreciable detriment to the party affected, he may yet recover nominal damages.”
  • “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]