The Treble Damage Bonanza: New Doctrines of Damages in Private Antitrust Suits
Section 7 of the Sherman Act, as amended by section 4 of the Clayton Act, gives a private right of action for treble damages to persons injured “in . . .business or property by reason of anything forbidden in the antitrust laws. . . .” The lucrative possibilities of this section for plaintiffs and their attorneys have recently received sufficient notoriety to arouse curiosity concerning the legal doctrines involved.
The purposes of the section have been said to include compensation for those affected by violations, prevention of violations, and assistance for the government in discovering and bringing before the courts persons who have violated the law. In practice the last purpose has hardly been achieved, since private suits generally are not brought until the government wins a suit against a violator, after which the private plaintiff can not only take advantage of section 5 of the Clayton Act, but can also rely on the successful legal theory developed in the governments case. The great complexity and expense of antitrust cases seem to prevent any pioneering in the field by private plaintiffs, the proof of which is that the landmark cases in recent times have not been treble damage suits.