Jacque v. Steenberg Homes, Inc. (1997) Brief

Jacque v. Steenberg Homes, Inc.
563 N.W.2d 154 (WI 1997)

Facts: Steenberg (D) sought permission from Jacque (P) to cross his land to deliver a trailer. Defendant would have otherwise had to move the trailer via a more difficult section of road and use special equipment to negotiate the curves. Plaintiff denied permission, and defendant ordered his employees to cross P’s land anyway. Plaintiff sued for intentional trespass. Nominal compensatory damages of $1 were awarded with punitive damages of $100,000. the circuit court set aside the punitive damage ruling due to an existing precedent which did not allow for punitive damages where only nominal compensatory damages had been awarded. The lower appellate court confirmed and Jaque appealed.

Issue: May a nominal damage award for intentional trespass support a punitive damage award?

Holding: Yes.

Decision: The court concluded that punitive damages may be awarded at the court’s discretion, in order to preserve landowner’s rights to their property. Otherwise, allowing such acts at only a nominal penalty would set a dangerous precedent. Society has an interest in punishing and deterring intentional trespassers beyond that of protecting the interests of the individual landowner.

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