Can you ask for treble damages in small claims court?

UPDATED: Aug 18, 2011

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Can you ask for treble damages in small claims court?

I incurred property damages arising from an auto accident in which the defendant ran a red light in the central business district. Is the amount in controversy limited only to actual damages or can I claim treble damages?

Asked on August 18, 2011 Texas


S.L,. Member, California Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 11 years ago | Contributor

Prior to filing a lawsuit, you should try to resolve this by filing a claim with the other driver's insurance company for your property damage.  If you are dissatisfied with settlement offers from the other driver's insurance company, you can file a lawsuit against the other driver for negligence.

If the other driver was uninsured, you can file a claim with your own auto insurance company if you have uninsured motorist coverage. 

Since an auto accident is negligence, you won't be able to get punitive damages because punitive damages are for an intentional, malicious act on the part of the defendant.  The amount of your recovery for property damage in this case is for the actual amount of the damage.

Depending on the amount of property damage, you may be able to file in Small Claims Court.  Your damages (the amount you are seeking to recover in your lawsuit) would be the amount of property damage (cost of repairs to your vehicle) and court costs.  Court costs would include the court filing fee and process server fee.  You will need to mitigate (minimize) damages.  For example, you will need to select an auto body shop to repair your car whose charges are comparable to other auto body shops in the area.  If you were to select the most expensive auto body shop you can find, your damages will be reduced accordingly.

If the case is settled with the insurance company, no lawsuit is filed.  If the case is NOT settled with the insurance company, you will need to file your lawsuit prior to the expiration of the applicable statute of limitations or you will lose your rights forever in the matter.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The Answer(s) provided above are for general information only. The attorney providing the answer was not serving as the attorney for the person submitting the question or in any attorney-client relationship with such person. Laws may vary from state to state, and sometimes change. Tiny variations in the facts, or a fact not set forth in a question, often can change a legal outcome or an attorney's conclusion. Although has verified the attorney was admitted to practice law in at least one jurisdiction, he or she may not be authorized to practice law in the jurisdiction referred to in the question, nor is he or she necessarily experienced in the area of the law involved. Unlike the information in the Answer(s) above, upon which you should NOT rely, for personal advice you can rely upon we suggest you retain an attorney to represent you.

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