As anyone who has been through the civil court system knows, lawyer fees are very expensive–sometimes even dwarfing the damages that may be awarded in the lawsuit. Although predicting legal fees that are likely to result from litigation is extremely difficult, at Asheville Legal we strive to keep our clients apprised of the range of possibilities when it comes to our projected fees.
With lawyer fees being so expensive, clients nearly always have this question on their minds: “Can I make my opponent pay for my legal fees?” Unfortunately, the answer to this question is usually “No”–but not always.
The general rule for all 50 states is that each party to a civil suit is responsible for paying its own legal fees. You may win 100% your breach of contract case and damages, but unless a particular exception applies, you won’t be able to make the other side pay for your legal fees. And there are a number of varied exceptions.
The first, and perhaps most common, attorney fee award is one that’s generally granted on an action to collect money owed on a note, contract, or other evidence of indebtedness that “provides for attorney fees.” These fees are capped, however, at 15% of the total indebtedness evidenced by the writing. The most typical context where this applies is in actions to collect on promissory notes, such as home loans.
Second, you might be entitled to an attorney fee award if the conduct of the party you’re bringing a claim against is overtly egregious in some manner. These are claims that go well above and beyond mere breaches of contract or negligence–typically involving intentional fraud or grossly reckless and dangerous misconduct. If you’re likely to win a punitive damages claim, an attorney fee award may attach as well.
Third, you might win an attorney fee if you’re forced to defend against an action in which there was a “complete absence of a justiciable issue.” This is a protection from frivolous lawsuits. And finally, there are a very wide range of other more particularized circumstances in which attorney fees might be awarded, including reciprocal fee provisions in business contracts, in the enforcement of construction lines, for unfair and deceptive trade practices in or affecting commerce, and for bad faith violations of the discovery rules.
If you’re concerned about the legal fees you’re likely to incur in a civil suit, then we highly recommend calling the litigation attorneys here at Asheville Legal. Chances are good you’ll need a competent lawyer to assess the viability of this remedy. We have the skill and experience to forecast possibilities for you, including whether or not your case falls into one of the rare exceptions when you might be able to make the opposing party pay for your attorney fees.