In many New York legal cases, the actions of a guilty party go beyond negligence. For example, a defendant may be found guilty of willfully malicious behavior against a plaintiff. In such cases, the court may award plaintiffs treble damages.
Although treble damages can be beneficial for victims and plaintiffs, they’re not always available as a remedial option. Let’s take a closer look at what treble damages are, how they work, and how they apply to different legal cases.
What Are Treble Damages?
Treble damages are civil damages that may be awarded in certain civil court cases. Treble damages are effectively “triple” the normal or settled amount of actual damages for a given case. For example, if a plaintiff is awarded $500 in civil damages because of the behavior of the defendant, but the court decides to award treble damages, the plaintiff may receive up to $1,500.
Treble damages are technically a type of punitive damage. They’re only awarded to plaintiffs in cases where punishing the defendant is deemed necessary. Punitive damages are usually only applied when the defendant or accused party has been convicted of especially negligent and/or malicious behavior.
Furthermore, treble damages are typically reserved for cases involving intellectual property (IP), such as trademark disputes, antitrust violations, and patent infringement. If it helps, you can think of the scope for treble damages as being mostly limited to the special punitive damages in IP cases.
For example, imagine a scenario where a plaintiff accuses a defendant of stealing their intellectual property in the form of a novel. The defendant made a profit from the novel and knew that their actions were wrong the entire time.
The plaintiff is awarded damages to compensate them for the lost and violated intellectual property. However, because the defendant knows that what they did was a crime, they must also pay the plaintiff treble damages.
Maximum Treble Damages
Treble damages are typically capped at three (3) times the original amount of civil damages awarded to the plaintiff. However, the Supreme Court previously ruled that punitive damages of any type may not be grossly excessive or imposed against defendants without rigorous due process and the application of procedural protections.
Because of this, each state has its own rules for applying treble damages to civil cases. The majority of states do not allow aggregate punitive damages to exceed four (4) times the amount of compensatory damages. For instance, if a plaintiff receives treble damages, those damages can never exceed four (4) times the total amount of original damages.
When Are Treble Damages Available to Plaintiffs?
Because treble damages can be very financially serious, they are only available to plaintiffs under certain circumstances.
As noted above, treble damages are awarded via specific state statutes in intellectual property law cases, such as patent infringement. Furthermore, treble damages are only available if the plaintiff and their legal team can prove that the defendant:
- Acted maliciously rather than just negligently (i.e., the defendant intended to harm the plaintiff).
- Acted so grossly negligently that they caused outsized financial and/or physical harm to the plaintiff.
If these conditions are met, and the rest of the case’s details meet the state’s statutes regarding treble damages, a plaintiff may request them. Furthermore, a court may independently decide to award treble damages to the plaintiff if they are sufficiently swayed during court testimony and evidence presentation.
What Is the Purpose of Treble Damages?
Treble damages are always used primarily to punish the defendant in a case, not to simply provide the plaintiff with additional financial compensation. That’s why treble damages are classified as a type of punitive damage.
For example, if the court becomes aware that the defendant in intellectual property case intended to harm the plaintiff, it may decide to award treble damages for two (2) purposes:
- To punish the defendant and prevent a repeat behavior in the future. This can be especially effective in cases where the defendant is a large company or corporation. In these circumstances, only large monetary penalties have any real effect.
- To dissuade others from committing the same crimes in the future. Again, in cases with intellectual property law, a lot of money may be on the line. By awarding plaintiffs treble damages, courts may hope to prevent others from causing the same damage in the future.
This isn’t to say that plaintiffs do not receive any benefit from treble damages. Indeed, plaintiffs who receive treble damages receive much more financial compensation than they may have originally anticipated.
Still, it’s important not to assume that you will receive treble damages under any circumstances, even if your case deals with intellectual property or if you believe you have proof that the defendant acted maliciously against you.
What Is an Example of Treble Damages?
To better understand treble damages, you can look at a well-known piece of legislation: the Telecommunications Consumer Protection Act of 1991 (TCPA).
This U.S. law was originally passed to protect consumers against harmful and predatory telemarketing practices. Under the TCPA, telemarketing companies must adhere to strict guidelines and regulations when making phone calls to consumers.
For example, companies that solicit products or services over the phone have to maintain do not call lists and not call individuals who are on those lists.
The TCPA doesn’t just outline rules and regulations. It also outlines penalties companies are subject to if they violate those rules. For example, a consumer can sue a telemarketing company for $500 for every violation they’ve recorded. Alternatively, they can recover damages or seek an injunction.
If a consumer proves that a telemarketing company willfully and knowingly violated the TCPA, they may be eligible to claim treble damages for each instance of the violation (e.g., the telemarketing company has to pay the consumer for each time they called them while knowing the consumer was on a do not call list).
All of this can add up, contributing to the goal of treble damages. In this case, the offending company would be sure not to repeat the same mistake when an incident costs them thousands of dollars.
Could You Recover Treble Damages from an At-Fault Party?
Whether you can recover treble damages depends on the situation and details of your case and whether you settle out of court.
Does your case deal with intellectual property in some way? If the answer is yes, you may qualify for treble damages from the defendant or at-fault party.
However, you must also have sufficient evidence to prove that the defendant in the case willfully and maliciously tried to harm you with their behavior. “Harm” in a legal context does not necessarily mean physical harm. It can also include financial harm, social harm, intellectual property harm, and so on. The point is to establish malicious intent on behalf of the at-fault party.
If both of these conditions are met, you may be able to recover treble damages. But even if you think that’s the case, contacting knowledgeable attorneys ahead of time is a good idea.
The right law firm can provide a variety of assistance to your case. For example, your lawyers can tell you whether treble damages are on the table or if you should not anticipate treble damages under any circumstances. They can also tell you how you should move forward with your lawsuit and assist with gathering evidence.
Evidence-gathering help can be particularly useful if you are trying to recover treble damages. Regardless, legal representatives are key assistants in any lawsuit, so you should contact them right away.
At Schwartzapfel Lawyers, we’re well-versed in the ins and outs of punitive damages and treble compensation. For more information at no charge, contact us today online or at 1-516-342-2200 to speak with one of our seasoned personal injury attorneys directly.
Contact Schwartzapfel Lawyers Today
Treble damages are civil punitive damages awarded in specific cases to plaintiffs. They’re usually capped at three (3) times the original damages amount, although there is some wiggle room depending on the circumstances of the case. Note: Treble damages are only awarded in cases where the plaintiff can prove that the defendant acted maliciously against them, not just negligently.
It can be difficult to know whether treble damages are on the table for your civil case. Schwartzapfel Lawyers can provide sound legal counsel and help you understand the maximum damages you may receive upon a successful trial or arbitration outcome. In one phone call, Schwartzapfel Lawyers can save you miles of headache, heartache, and financial strain down the road.
To act now and protect your future, contact our knowledgeable attorneys today at 1-516-342-2200 for a free case evaluation. It will be our honor and privilege to fight for you every step of the way!
DISCLAIMER: Nothing on this page should be considered legal advice. You should seek the appropriate counsel your situation requires. For more information, call 1-516-342-2200 now!