By Attorney Edward Jesson
To the chagrin of many North Carolinians who believe they have been wronged, with very few exceptions, you need to have been actually “damaged” successfully bring a lawsuit against another party. While there are several types of damages available to litigants in North Carolina, in most cases, a plaintiff in a lawsuit will be seeking monetary damages.
Monetary damages are, for the most part, meant to be compensatory in nature. The money damages that you may eventually be awarded are meant to compensate you, or “make you whole,” for the loss you have suffered. For example, what if you find a dead mouse in your McDonald’s sandwich? While shocking, unless you ate it and suffered illness or medical expenses, you would not be awarded much in court other than the cost of the sandwich – and who wants to pay a lawyer for that?
Take an example where you believe that someone has made a slanderous or defamatory statement against you. Even if you could prove that the person made the statement and that it was false, that might not be enough to win your lawsuit. You would then need to prove that because of the defendant making that defamatory statement you were in some way monetarily damaged. It is very difficult to get non-economic damages, like emotional distress, in North Carolina.
A plaintiff can be awarded what are known as nominal damages in North Carolina. These are damages that acknowledge that a defendant violated the law (for example, making a defamatory statement) but also acknowledge that no actual loss was suffered by the plaintiff in that situation. An example of nominal damages could be awarding a plaintiff $1.00 when the defendant made a defamatory statement. Yes, a defamatory statement was made, but the plaintiff did not suffer any real harm from that statement being made. And again, who wants to pay a lawyer for that?
There are many other categories of damages that can be claimed in North Carolina, which are very dependent on the specific circumstances of the case. It is important, when discussing a lawsuit with an attorney, to discuss the damages portion up front to ensure that you have a reasonable expectation of what you may stand to gain (or lose) if the lawsuit does end up in front of a jury. It is not always enough that the potential defendant has violated the law if you cannot prove damages. The attorneys at Jesson & Rains can help guide you through what your options are if you feel that you may have a claim against another in a lawsuit.
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