What are Statutory Damages?

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  • Written By: Felicia Dye
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 22 January 2020
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Statutory damages are a type of award that can be granted by a court to a plaintiff in a case where statutory law is violated. These damages are pre-established and included in the text of the legislation to which they pertain. This is generally done because such cases involve circumstances where the calculation of a plaintiff’s actual entitlement, also known as compensatory damages, would be either difficult or impossible. Examples of cases where statutory damages are likely to be awarded include patent infringement and public policy violations.

Regulations set by a legislature are known as statutory laws. Statutory damages may be outlined in those laws. These are sums of money victims are entitled to when people break those laws and other people are harmed.

When cases are argued in court, a plaintiff is often able to outline certain expenses or losses she incurred as a result of the defendant’s actions. If the plaintiff wins the case, the court may award her compensatory damages. These generally cover the amounts she has argued for.

With cases involving statutory damages, arguments regarding how much a person is entitled to are generally not necessary. Specific costs that may be considered in these cases are court costs and attorney fees. The plaintiff, however, generally bears no burden to prove she is worthy of the amount awarded to her by the court.


Many critics of statutory damages argue that they are often excessive. It is common for statutory law to outline an award range instead of setting a specific amount. The award may also be subject to special conditions.

The ability to receive statutory damages is one of the benefits creators receive when registering works with the US Copyright Office. Copyright and trademark infringement cases are good examples of instances where this type of damages is commonly awarded and actual damages could be difficult to calculate. In these cases, the victim has the right to choose whether she wants to receive actual damages and costs or statutory damages, which will be determined by the court and will be within the range outlined by the law.

If she chooses statutory damages and the infringement is deemed intentional, the court is granted permission by the law to exceed the range up to a given amount. If it is found that the infringement existed but was unintentional, the court can reduce the award below the range to a provided minimum. These are examples of what are often considered special conditions.


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Post 2

@Terrificli -- Wrong? Not really. In most of cases setting statutory damages, either a specific amount is considered or the courts are obliged to award only reasonable damages. Legislators know that lawyers tend to churn fees if given the chance and give courts the authority to not reward that practice. Quite often, a lawyer will petition the court for a certain fee and get a much smaller one. That is how it goes.

And statutory damages are great public policy. In your breach of contract example, awarding attorneys fees might persuade people to follow through on their contracts. Businesses can't function if people violate contracts right and left, so it is in society's best interest to encourage people to live up to their contractual agreements.

If the prospect of paying a bunch of lawyers' fees inspires people to honor their contracts, so be it.

Post 1

It is right for people to attack those as being excessive because they often are excessive. In my state, the winner in a breach of contract case is awarded attorney's fees by state statute.

Why on earth would the state legislature give someone a blank check like that? You just know that lawyers in this state know about that statute and run up those hours like crazy if they are fairly certain they will win a case. That's just downright wrong and benefits no one but a bunch of lawyers.

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