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9 PJI 4.5 | Third Circuit (US)
HB-PJI-CA03-09S0405 Download


If you return a verdict for [plaintiff], but [plaintiff] has failed to prove actual injury and therefore is not entitled to compensatory damages, then you must award nominal damages of $ 1.00.

A person whose federal rights were violated is entitled to a recognition of that violation, even if [he/she] suffered no actual injury. Nominal damages (of $1.00) are designed to acknowledge the deprivation of a federal right, even where no actual injury occurred.

However, if you find actual injury, you must award compensatory damages (as I instructed you), rather than nominal damages.

COMMENT ADA remedies are the same as provided in Title VII. The enforcement provision of the ADA, 42 U.S.C. § 12117, specifically provides for the same recovery in ADA actions as in Title VII actions: “The powers, remedies and procedures set forth in... [42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5, the Title VII remedies provision] shall be the powers, remedies and procedures this title provides to... any person alleging discrimination on the basis of disability in violation of any provision of this Act... concerning employment.” Accordingly, this instruction on nominal damages is substantively identical to that provided for Title VII actions. See Instruction 5.4.5.

An instruction on nominal damages is proper when the plaintiff has failed to present evidence of actual injury. However, when the plaintiff has presented evidence of actual injury and that evidence is undisputed, it is error to instruct the jury on nominal damages, at least if the nominal damages instruction is emphasized to the exclusion of appropriate instructions on compensatory damages. Thus, in Pryer v. C.O. 3 Slavic, 251 F.3d 448, 452 (3d Cir. 2001), the district court granted a new trial, based partly on the ground that because the plaintiff had presented “undisputed proof of actual injury, an instruction on nominal damages was inappropriate.” In upholding the grant of a new trial, the Court of Appeals noted that “nominal damages may only be awarded in the absence of proof of actual injury.” See id. at 453. The court observed that the district court had “recognized that he had erroneously instructed the jury on nominal damages and failed to inform it of the availability of compensatory damages for pain and suffering.” Id. Accordingly, the court held that “[t]he court's error in failing to instruct as to the availability of damages for such intangible harms, coupled with its emphasis on nominal damages, rendered the totality of the instructions confusing and misleading.” Id. at 454.

Nominal damages may not exceed one dollar. See Mayberry v. Robinson, 427 F. Supp. 297, 314 (M.D. Pa. 1977) ("It is clear that the rule of law in the Third Circuit is that nominal damages may not exceed $1.00.") (citing United States ex rel. Tyrrell v. Speaker, 535 F.2d 823, 830 (3d Cir. 1976)).

(Last Updated July 2019)

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