In some personal injury lawsuits, a judge will allow a victim to collect two or three times the amount of actual damages. In order for the plaintiff to collect these awards, a statute must support them.

How Do I Seek Double or Treble Damages?

A person who is seeking double or treble damage must claim the award in their initial complaint with the court. The plaintiff is considered to have waived their right to double or treble damage if they did not specifically request it in their complaint or in a motion early on in trial.

It is essential to claim these damage amounts early on, because double and treble damages sometimes allow the victim to bypass statutory limits on the total amount that they can recover. For example, many small claims courts limit damages awards to $2,000. However, if the jurisdiction allows double and treble damage awards, the plaintiff may be awarded $4,000 (double) or even $6,000 (treble).

What Are the Requirements for Double and Treble Damages?

  1. Statutes. The plaintiff’s request for double or treble damages must be supported by a statute. Not all states have double or treble damage statutes. If the state does not have such a statute, it is likely that the personal injury victim will not be able to obtain them.
  2. Request. The plaintiff must specifically claim their right to double and treble damages when they file their lawsuit. This is because double and treble damages are not required, and will only be granted if specifically requested
  3. Wrongdoing. Most jurisdictions require proof of the defendant’s intentional wrongdoing. This means the defendant must have acted purposely in harming the plaintiff. However, the defendant’s intent can sometimes be determined based on their negligence, recklessness, or carelessness.

Since double and treble damages sometimes require intentional wrongdoing on the part of the defendant, they are usually classified as punitive damages rather than general or compensatory damages. In other words, "double" and "treble" damages serve the purpose of punishing the defendant, rather than compensating the plaintiff for losses. Therefore, the plaintiff must fulfill all the requirements associated with punitive damage awards.

Are There Any Limits on Double or Treble Damage Awards?

Yes. For example, many states place a limit on the amount of damages that a plaintiff may be awarded in a medical malpractice lawsuit. Some states limit medical malpractice awards to a sum of about $250,000 to $500,000. In these states, damage awards may not exceed the stated limits, even if a judge awards a double or treble damages award.

States that enforce limits for medical malpractice damage awards include:

  • California
  • Colorado
  • Florida
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan
  • Texas

Keep in mind that this list is not necessarily complete, and statutes covering double and treble damages may also be subject to change.

Should I Contact a Lawyer?

Personal injury claims can sometimes be complex, especially when it comes to calculating damage awards. If you need assistance with a personal injury claim, you may wish to speak to a lawyer for advice or representation in court. An experienced personal injury attorney can help determine whether you are entitled to double or treble damages for your losses.