Can a one-million-dollar verdict be nominal? The Georgia Court of Appeals says yes


walmart; store; retail

By: Breandan Cotter

In a recent opinion, Walmart Stores East, LP v. Leverette, the Georgia Court of Appeals upheld a $1,000,000 Gwinnett County Jury verdict based solely on an award of nominal damages, despite the jury having declined to award the Plaintiff any damages for medical expenses or pain and suffering. The Court emphasized that determining the size of such an award falls squarely within the province of the fact-finder, absent jury bias, prejudice, or mistake.  

The verdict in question was handed down after Bettie Leverette sued Walmart Stores East, LP (“Walmart”), alleging she sustained serious injuries arising from a 2018 incident at a Walmart in Covington, GA when two store employees pushing a pallet down an aisle “bumped” into Leverette. Despite declining medical attention at the scene and an emergency room visit showing no sign of injury or concussion, Leverette eventually claimed to have suffered a traumatic brain injury necessitating “medication, therapy, medical equipment, and 24-hour attendant care.” At trial, Leverette, relying in large part on the testimony of her treating neurologist and life care planner, requested that the jury award her $3,679,200 for future pain and suffering and $1,916,968 for future medical care for a total of $5,596,168 in damages.  Walmart countered with several experts of its own and, over Leverette’s objection, requested the jury at most award Leverette nominal damages (and succeeded in submitting a jury charge for nominal damages). Walmart’s lawyers argued in closing that such an award “can be $10, it can be $100, it could be $500, but it should not be $3 million.” The jury returned a verdict in Leverette’s favor, awarding her $1,000,000 in nominal damages, but did not award her any damages for medical expenses or pain and suffering.  

On appeal, Walmart argued the jury’s award of $1,000,000 in nominal damages was excessive as a matter of law. The Court of Appeals disagreed, relying on precedent holding nominal damages are available “(1) where no actual damage flows from the injury; or (2) where the violation of a right is shown, substantial damages claimed, and some actual loss proved, and yet the damages are not susceptible of reasonable certainty of proof as to their extent.” The Court thus reasoned that in light of the conflicting medical evidence, the jury could have determined that Leverette suffered an “actual loss” that was not “susceptible of reasonable certainty.” Walmart also argued that prior Georgia case law required an award of nominal damages to be “relatively trivial.” Pointing out that that case involved a breach of contract claim tried before a bench and not a tort claim before a jury, the Court held it inapplicable.  

In Georgia, juries continue to behave unpredictably in personal injury trials, and Georgia’s Appellate Courts continue to defer to their findings, regardless of how murky the evidence may be. The holding also speaks to the potential risks of a Defendant leaving a jury with an open-ended ask for damages.  

Please do not hesitate to contact Breandan Cotter at or your local FMG relationship partner to discuss the impact of this opinion or for any related Tort questions.