What Are Treble Damages?

Treble damages refer to financial compensation awarded by a court to a prevailing plaintiff that are up to three times the actual or compensatory damages. Treble damages may be required by the statute that has been violated.

Key Takeaways

  • Treble damages are a form of punitive damages awarded in a civil court case allowing the plaintiff to receive triple the standard compensatory damages.
  • Treble damages are invoked most often based on the intent of the defendant.
  • Treble damages can only be awarded if the statute or law that has been violated allows for them.

Understanding Treble Damages

Treble damages are a type of civil damages awarded in civil court cases. These are monetary awards owed to a winning plaintiff by the losing defendant in a civil case tried in a court of law. Civil damages can be compensatory, general, punitive, or any combination of these. Treble damages are often awarded in cases involving patent infringement, willful counterfeiting, and antitrust violations.

Plaintiffs in personal injury cases may also receive treble damages if the violated statute supports them, if the plaintiff requests them, and if the defendant intended to harm the plaintiff. Treble damages are intended to be punitive in order to deter others from committing the same offense and are three times the compensatory damages awarded. Note that treble damages may only be awarded as such if the statute allows for it.

General damages are financial awards made by a court in a civil case in addition to compensatory damages. General damages are usually requested along with compensatory damages but are more difficult to obtain. General damages typically fall under the heading of pain and suffering or mental anguish, for example.

Treble Damages in Context

Like treble damages, punitive damages are imposed in order to punish the perpetrator, not just compensate the plaintiff. Punitive damages may be awarded at the discretion of the court when the offense is determined to be particularly harmful. Punitive damages go beyond compensating the aggrieved party and are specifically designed to punish defendants whose conduct is considered grossly negligent or intentional. They are also called exemplary damages in that they are intended to set an example to deter future violators.

The Supreme Court and the states provide guidelines for calculating punitive damages. Although there is no maximum sum, punitive damages typically do not exceed four times the amount of compensatory damages. Unlike punitive damages, treble damages cannot be awarded without a specific statute allowing them.

The term "liquidated damages" also refers to financial compensation due to an aggrieved party. They differ in that they are typically specified in a contract for a particular offense.

Example of Treble Damages

The Telecommunications Consumer Protection Act of 1991 (TCPA) is a U.S. law created in response to consumer concerns about telemarketing. The act sets guidelines for telemarketing practices, places greater restrictions on the use of automated telephone equipment, and requires that entities making telephone solicitations maintain do-not-call lists.

The TCPA prescribes penalties for violating such rules. For example, a subscriber may sue for $500 for each violation or recover damages, seek an injunction, or sue for both. In cases of a willful violation of the TCPA, subscribers can claim treble damages for each instance.