Treble damages

Treble 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, generally in order to punish the losing party for willful conduct. 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. The ability to award treble damages is a typical feature in legislation that recognizes the potentially willful nature of the prohibited acts. For example, such damages may be awarded by a court in the United States for willful violation of the antitrust laws, for willful patent infringement, for trademark counterfeiting, and under the RICO statute. The idea behind the creation of such damages, also called exemplary 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, unlike merely compensatory damages, which are exempt from federal income tax, 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.

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