In certain types of cases in which damages are awarded, the court may adjust the amount of damages to triple the original amount awarded. This is known as treble damages. In some cases, they may be legally required, and in others, the judge has some discretion when making a final ruling. These damages are designed to be punitive, to act as a disincentive for certain kinds of behavior.
In order for treble damages to be awarded, it must be demonstrated that the losing party in the case willfully violated the law. A simple example might be a case of patent infringement. If it can be shown that the infringing party knew that the infringement was not legal and pursued it anyway, the case might be eligible for treble damages. Likewise, any other cases in which it can be shown that someone deliberately chose to act in a way which is prohibited by law may be eligible for them.
By contrast, if someone committed a wrong, but not willfully, he or she is still liable, but not for treble damages. For example, if a driver sues another driver for damages as a result of a car accident, treble damages will not be awarded, unless the other driver violated the law deliberately to cause the accident. Essentially, these damages are designed to penalize people who made a deliberate choice to inflict harm, while they are not applied in cases which do not meet the “willful conduct” standard.
The law surrounding punitive damages can get complicated. Sometimes people incur tax liability when they receive treble damages, and in cases where there is an international component, other nations may not be willing to recover treble damages if they have bans on punitive damages. There may also be cases in which multiplying the damages awarded is required, but is not practical, because the losing party cannot afford to pay the increased award.
If a case is eligible for this kind of damage award, this is sometime evident at the outset, and may in other cases be uncovered while the case is tried in court. Lawyers generally try to advise their clients if there is a risk of a tripled damage award, and in some cases they may encourage their clients to consider settling to reduce the amount of the payout. People who are suing for damages should consider settlement offers carefully, as there are advantages and disadvantages to accepting a settlement offer.