|Legal remedies (Damages)|
Treble damages, in law, is a term that indicates that a statute permits a court to triple the amount of the actual/compensatory damages to be awarded to a prevailing plaintiff. "Treble" simply means "triple" in British English. The phrase "treble damages" survived the change from "treble" to "triple" in American English. Treble damages are a multiple of, and not an addition to, actual damages. Thus, where a person received an award of $100 for an injury, a court applying treble damages would raise the award to $300. Some statutes mandate awards of treble damages for all violations. Examples of statutes with mandatory treble damages provisions are the Clayton Antitrust Act and RICO. Some statutes allow for an award of treble damages only if there is a showing that the violation was willful. For example, "up to three times the amount found or assessed" may be awarded by a court in the United States for willful patent infringement. The idea behind the creation of such damages is that they will encourage citizens to sue for violations that are harmful to society in general.
The United States Supreme Court determined in Commissioner v. Glenshaw Glass Co. that, like compensatory damages, which are not exempt from federal income tax (unless the award is from a personal injury claim), such taxes must be paid on the excess amount (the amount that exceeds the actual damages) of treble damages. Furthermore, some foreign governments will assist U.S. citizens in collecting damages, but not treble damage awards, which are considered penal.
- See, for example, Lowry v. Tile, Mantel & Grate Asso., 106 F. 38, 46 (U.S. Court of Appeals): It is for the court, in executing the provisions of the statute in entering judgment upon the verdict (if you shall find for the plaintiffs), to treble the amount of the damages; that is to say, any verdict rendered by you, and upon which a judgment will be entered by the court, will be multiplied by three, and a judgment entered for such treble damages.
- 15 U.S.C. § 15.
- 18 U.S.C. § 1964.
- 35 U.S.C. § 284.
- See, for example, Agency Holding Corp. v. Malley-Duff & Associates, Inc., 483 U.S. 143, 151 (1987) (U.S. Supreme Court): Both RICO and the Clayton Act are designed to remedy economic injury by providing for the recovery of treble damages, costs, and attorney's fees. Both statutes bring to bear the pressure of "private attorneys general" on a serious national problem for which public prosecutorial resources are deemed inadequate; the mechanism chosen to reach the objective in both the Clayton Act and RICO is the carrot of treble damages. Moreover, both statutes aim to compensate the same type of injury; each requires that a plaintiff show injury "in his business or property by reason of" a violation.
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