The insertion of fluid viscous dampers in building structures is an innovative technology that can improve significantly the seismic response. These devices could be very useful also in the retrofit of existing buildings. The effect of this typology of damping system is usually identified with an equivalent supplemental damping ratio, which depends on the maximum displacement of the structure, so that iterative procedures are required. In this paper, a simplified direct assessment method for nonlinear structures equipped with nonlinear fluid viscous dampers is proposed. The method proposed in this study is composed by two steps. The first one yields the direct estimate of the supplemental damping ratio provided by nonlinear viscous dampers in presence of a linear elastic structural response. The second step extends the procedure to structures with nonlinear behavior. Both graphical and analytical approaches have been developed. The proposed method has then been verified through several applications and comparisons with nonlinear dynamic analyses. Moreover, an investigation has been performed with regard to the influence of the relations that define the damping reduction factor and the hysteretic damping. Copyright © 2014 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.