Car Law A to Z: T is for Treble Damages

Aaah……the hammer.  Treble damages.  If the facts and evidence in your case indicate you were the victim of unfair or deceptive acts regarding your vehicle-related problem, the court has the power to award you three times the amount of your actual compensatory damages.  Think that will make the defendant(s) think twice before doing the same thing again?

The key statute for treble damages in North Carolina is N.C.G.S. 75-16.  Treble damages are often awarded in cases of fraud such as odometer rollbacks or failure to disclose vehicle damage but can also be appropriate in cases with extremely egregious violations of law or bad conduct by the defendant(s).  The list of cases and facts in which the North Carolina courts—trial level and appellate—have allowed treble damages is far too long to recount here.  Treble Briefcase material can apply in a variety of different cases but note that not every case is appropriate for an award of treble damages.  For example, in a breach of contract case North Carolina law requires aggravating or almost “superbad” conduct before a claimant can collect three times her compensatory damages. 

One other note is that the attorney’s fee provision for treble damages claims.  There is a “loser pays” component to the provision but the standard to be met for a defendant to make a claimant pay the defendant’s attorney’s fees is fairly high:  knowing or having reason to know the treble damages claim was frivolous and malicious.  The vast majority of well-pled treble damages claims should not run afoul of this standard and the plaintiff should be free from having to pay the defendant’s attorney’s fee even if the plaintiff loses the case.

A neat feature of the treble damages statute in North Carolina is that it provides a four-year statute of limitations which is longer than the three year statute of limitations which pertains to breach of contract and several other related claims which may be brought by consumers and other civil litigants.  Given the complexities and costs of treble damages claims it is unwise for a non-attorney to handle it on one’s own.  Consult an experienced civil attorney about your situation and see if it could qualify for treble damages and possible other claims.



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