277 Conn. 364
• Plaintiff injured party sued defendant motorist in the trial court for negligence resulting in an automobile accident. After a jury awarded no damages, the trial court set aside the verdict and granted a motion for additur. The Appellate Court (Connecticut) affirmed, and the motorist sought further review.
• The trial court awarded the injured party nominal damages and, under Conn. Gen. Stat. § 52-257, certain costs. The supreme court held the injured party was not entitled to nominal damages based on the motorist’s admission of liability. Prior authority holding the motorist’s admission showed the injured party suffered a technical legal injury and was, thus, entitled to at least nominal damages was expressly overruled.
• Must a plaintiff prove actual damages to win a negligence suit?
• A plaintiff must establish all of the elements of a negligence claim, including causation and actual injury, in order to recover and, therefore, the technical legal injury concept does not apply to a negligence action.
• No case has held that a plaintiff may prevail in a negligence action without alleging and proving actual damage
• Although the rule making actual damage an element of a cause of action in negligence may have originated in the common law distinction between trespass and trespass on the case, the distinction between intentional and unintentional conduct in terms of legal consequences which it serves to implement should not be obliterated. Where a plaintiff’s right has been intentionally invaded, its vindication in a court of law and the award of nominal and even exemplary damages serves the policy of deterrence in a real sense. It is difficult to imagine what purpose would be furthered by permitting anyone who is jostled in a crowd or otherwise suffers some unintended contact with his person or injury to his dignity to set in motion the judicial machinery necessary for a recovery of nominal damages. That judges and juries have more important business to occupy them is as true today as it was in ancient times when the rule originated. There is nothing arcane about the wisdom of not cluttering the courts with trivia.
• The essential elements of a cause of action in negligence are well established: duty; breach of that duty; causation; and actual injury. Without proof of each of these elements, a plaintiff’s cause fails entirely, and he is not entitled to have the question of damages considered. This is because conduct that is merely negligent, without proof of an actual injury, is not considered to be a significant interference with the public interest such that there is any right to complain of it, or to be free from it.
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