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Am I Entitled to Attorney’s Fees if I Win my Lawsuit?

As everyone knows, litigation is expensive. Due to the number of factors involved, however, it is hard to calculate the average cost of suing someone in the United States. It is no different in California, where factors driving lawsuit costs include the type of case and the amount of time devoted to it. Whether or not the matter goes to trial and the assessment of various fees also determine cost.

Not surprisingly, attorney’s fees account for a significant portion. Of course that leads to an important question. Are you entitled to attorney’s fees if you win your lawsuit? In other words, does the other party have to pay? Here’s what you need to know.

What is the American Rule?

In a legal context, the American Rule is a general stipulation that each party to a civil suit must pay their own attorney’s fees. More to the point, it stipulates that the plaintiff and defendant must each do so no matter who prevails.

Basically, this rule is meant to protect people with valid legal grievances. Specifically, it is meant to ensure that fear of potential liability for all attorney’s fees does not discourage people from seeking recourse through the courts. Conversely, English common law mandates that the losing party pay the winning party’s legal fees.

That being stated, the legal community here does not universally approve of the American Rule. However, numerous attempts to overturn it in favor of the English common law practice have failed.

As it stands, there are some exceptions to the rule. And as it just so happens, California is one of the states that allows for them.

The ability to claim attorney’s fees in California

In California, the right to claim Attorney’s fees is derived from Section 1033.5 of the state’s Civil Procedure Code. It stipulates that attorney’s fees are “allowable as costs” when permitted by contract, statute or law. Here are some examples.

Award of attorney’s fees in family law cases

In California, judges can order one party in a family law case to pay the other’s lawyer’s fees.

Specifically, they can do so if a spouse or domestic partner seeking divorce or separation requests this action early on. Judges also have the ability to grant this request in:

  • certain custody and visitation cases
  • matters involving child or spousal support
  • matters involving domestic violence

Judges can also order one side to pay the other’s attorney’s fees as a punitive measure. However, this measure can only be employed if one side’s conduct is unlawful or dishonorable.

Contractual provisions for award of attorney’s fees

Section 1717 of the state’s Civil Code stipulates that the person who “prevails on the contract” in a contract dispute is entitled to “reasonable” attorney’s fees when

  • The contract specifies that any attorney’s fees and costs incurred to enforce that contract shall be awarded “either to one of the parties or to the prevailing party.”

With certain exceptions, “the party prevailing on the contract” as determined by the court, is the person who is legally entitled to more relief based on the stipulations therein. In this context the court may find that no one prevails on the contract. For example, there is no prevailing party if the case is voluntarily dismissed or dismissed in accordance with a settlement.

The court may also find that the defendant is the prevailing party on the contract. The court can reach this conclusion if: 1) the defendant claims that he or she offered the plaintiff the full amount to which he or she was entitled per the contract; 2) the defendant then deposits in court for the plaintiff, funds in the amount offered; and the court determines the defendant’s claim regarding the offer is true.

Additionally, it is up to the court to determine what constitutes reasonable attorneys’ fees.

Another case in point

A 2012 lawsuit pitting the Sierra Club against San Diego County serves as another good example. In this case, the Sierra Club sued the county over a climate action plan the county passed the year before. The crux of the case was the Sierra Club’s assertion that the plan did not meet standards set forth in the California Environmental Quality Act. The case went to trial and the Sierra Club prevailed. The county lost its appeal in 2014 and had to pay approximately $1 million to cover the Sierra Club’s legal fees.

Contact the Law Office Of Parag L. Amin P.C., to learn more

The Law Office of Parag L. Amin P.C., or LawPLA, offers comprehensive legal services to clients throughout the greater Los Angeles area and beyond. To learn more about claiming attorney’s fee or for legal assistance in other areas, visit our contact page or click on the link to schedule a free consultation. We look forward to hearing from you.


PLEASE NOTE: This is not a representation, warranty, or guarantee of a future result or outcome. Every case is different just like every one of our clients.