What Are Nominal Damages In A Breach Of Contract Case?

What Are Nominal Damages In A Breach Of Contract Case?

Real Estate Law: Understanding Nominal Damages in a Breach of Contract Case

In the realm of real estate transactions, contracts play a vital role in formalizing agreements between parties involved in buying, selling, leasing, or exchanging property. When one party fails to fulfill their contractual obligations, it constitutes a breach of contract, leading to potential financial losses for the non-breaching party. In breach of contract cases, the injured party may seek various types of damages to compensate for their losses. One such category of damages is known as “nominal damages.” In this article, we will delve into the concept of nominal damages in real estate law, their purpose, how they differ from other types of damages, and their significance in breach of contract cases.

1. Defining Nominal Damages:

Nominal damages are a type of compensation awarded to a party in a legal action when they have suffered a breach of contract, but their actual losses or damages are minimal or difficult to quantify. Despite the lack of substantial financial harm, the court may award nominal damages to acknowledge the breach and provide legal recognition of the injured party’s rights.

2. Purpose of Nominal Damages:

The primary purpose of awarding nominal damages is to vindicate the injured party’s legal rights and affirm the validity of the contract. It acknowledges that the breaching party failed to meet their obligations and that the injured party is entitled to some form of compensation, even if the actual losses are negligible.

3. Distinguishing Nominal Damages from Other Types of Damages:

In a breach of contract case, there are several types of damages that the injured party may seek, including:

a. Compensatory Damages: Compensatory damages are designed to compensate the injured party for their actual financial losses resulting from the breach. These damages aim to place the non-breaching party in the position they would have been in if the breach had not occurred.

b. Consequential Damages: Consequential damages, also known as special or indirect damages, are additional damages that flow from the breach but are not a direct result of it. These damages must have been foreseeable at the time the parties entered into the contract.

c. Punitive Damages: Punitive damages, also called exemplary damages, are awarded to punish the breaching party for their egregious conduct or willful misconduct. In most contract cases, punitive damages are not typically awarded.

d. Liquidated Damages: Some contracts include a provision for liquidated damages, which are predetermined amounts of damages agreed upon by the parties in the event of a breach. Liquidated damages serve as a pre-estimate of the potential losses that may occur due to a breach.

4. Conditions for Awarding Nominal Damages:

To be eligible for nominal damages, the injured party must establish that a breach of contract occurred, even if their actual financial losses are minimal. It is essential to show that the breach was material and that the party suffered some harm, no matter how small. Additionally, the injured party must have acted in good faith and made reasonable efforts to mitigate their losses.

5. Significance of Nominal Damages in Real Estate Cases:

In real estate transactions, nominal damages may arise when one party breaches a contract, but the impact of the breach on the non-breaching party is limited. For example, if a seller fails to disclose a minor defect in the property, the buyer may suffer some inconvenience, but the defect does not substantially affect the property’s value or usability. In such cases, the court may award nominal damages to acknowledge the breach, even though the actual losses are minimal.

6. Legal Implications of Nominal Damages:

Although nominal damages are relatively small in monetary value, their legal implications are significant. By awarding nominal damages, the court validates the injured party’s claim and confirms the existence of a breach of contract. This acknowledgment can have ramifications in future legal actions and may also impact the breaching party’s reputation and standing in the real estate market.

7. Role of Attorney’s Fees:

In some jurisdictions and under certain circumstances, the injured party may also be entitled to recover attorney’s fees and costs associated with pursuing the breach of contract case. The inclusion of attorney’s fees provisions in contracts can encourage parties to resolve disputes amicably and avoid litigation.

8. Settlement Offers and Nominal Damages:

In some breach of contract cases, the injured party may receive a settlement offer from the breaching party to resolve the matter before going to trial. If the offer includes nominal damages, the injured party should carefully consider its implications, as accepting the offer may have legal and reputational consequences.


Nominal damages are a form of compensation awarded in breach of contract cases when the actual financial losses suffered by the injured party are minimal or difficult to quantify. The primary purpose of nominal damages is to acknowledge the breach, affirm the injured party’s legal rights, and provide legal recognition of the validity of the contract. While nominal damages may have a smaller monetary value compared to other types of damages, their significance in real estate cases lies in their legal implications and their role in vindicating the injured party’s rights. Real estate professionals and parties involved in real estate transactions should be aware of the concept of nominal damages and the different types of damages that may arise in breach of contract cases to effectively protect their interests and navigate the complexities of contract disputes.

Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is for general informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. The availability and applicability of nominal damages may vary depending on the specific circumstances of each case and the applicable laws. Parties involved in real estate transactions should seek legal counsel to understand their rights and obligations related to nominal damages and other types of damages in breach of contract cases.

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