Property I, Pages 11–18

Jacque v. Steenberg Homes, Inc.

Supreme Court of Wisconsin, 1997


Steenberg Homes wanted to deliver a home across Jacque's snow-covered field because it was much easier than the alternative route. Despite his direct refusal, Steenberg plowed a path and delivered the home across the path.

Procedural History:

The trial jury awarded $1 in nominal damages and $100,000 in punitive damages. The circuit court reversed the $100,000 punitive damages award.


  • Can an award of nominal damages for intentional trespass to land support a punitive damage award?

  • Should the law apply to Steenberg or only prospectively?

  • Is the $100,000 punitive damage award excessive?

Plaintiff's Argument:

Punitive damages should be allowed with only nominal damages when the act is a trespass to land.

Defendant's Argument:

Punitive damages could not be awarded by the jury because punitive damages have to be supported by compensatory damages, while the jury only awarded nominal and punitive damages here.


Nominal damages are enough for punitive damages whenever the tort in question is a trespass to land.


This was a trespass to land, so punitive damages are allowed for a trespass to land. The cost to the trespasser must outweigh their benefit in order to stop them from doing it in the future, so such a value is allowed for the public interest.


Yes, such an award is appropriate here and $100,000 is an appropriate amount. Original damages restored.


When nominal damages are given in a trespass to land, punitive damages may also be given.