Monday, January 6, 2014

Jacque v. Steenberg Homes, Inc. case brief

Jacque v. Steenberg Homes, Inc. case brief summary
563 N.W.2d 154 (Wis. 1997)

The Court of Appeals (Wisconsin) affirmed an order that granted defendant trespasser's post-verdict motion to set aside a punitive damages award of $ 100,000 that was awarded to plaintiff property owners in addition to nominal damages of $ 1.00, after it found that the trespasser intentionally trespassed on the property owners' land. The property owners appealed.

Despite adamant protests by the property owners, a trespasser plowed a path through their snow-covered field and delivered a mobile home to the property owners' neighbor. In their intentional trespass action, they were awarded $ 1.00 in nominal damages and $ 100,000 in punitive damages. The trespasser contended that judicial precedent precluded the punitive damage award.


  • The court held that when nominal damages were awarded for an intentional trespass to land, punitive damages may be awarded in the discretion of the jury. 
  • Because the property owners' legal right to exclude all others from their land was involved, the court noted that the law recognized that actual harm occurred in every trespass. 
  • In the case of intentional trespass to land, the nominal damage award represented the recognition that actual harm had occurred. 
  • The decision, which carved an exception to precedent, applied to the trespasser as a reward to the property owners who persevered in attacking an unsound rule. 
  • The court also held that the amount of punitive damages was not excessive because the trespasser's conduct was egregious and deceitful.

The court reversed the judgment that set aside the punitive damages award and remanded the case with directions.

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