Scofield v. Critical Air Medicine, Inc

In Scofield v. Critical Air Medicine, Inc. (1996) 45 Cal.App.4th 990, the Court of Appeal discussed a cause of action for false imprisonment where there was no evidence of physical harm to the two children who were victims of the false imprisonment. In concluding that physical harm was not a necessary element of the tort, the Court of Appeal discussed the right of a plaintiff to bring the case to a jury where the defendant has incurred a technical liability, even where no damages are shown. (Id. at pp. 1007-1008.) The court described false imprisonment as a "'dignitary tort,'" designed for recovery when an individual knows of the dignitary tort or is harmed by it. The court stated, "In view of the nature of the interest protected, it is appropriate a cause of action may be brought even where the damage is purely nominal." (Id. at p. 1008.) The court cited Civil Code section 3360, which provides: "When a breach of duty has caused no appreciable detriment to the party affected, he may yet recover nominal damages." The court pointed out that the advantages of an award of nominal damages -- other than psychological -- are: (1) the plaintiff is entitled to costs; and (2) the plaintiff may be entitled to punitive damages. (Id. at pp. 1007-1008.)