If I am sued and I win, does the losing party have to reimburse me for my court costs and attorney fees?

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 16, 2021

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Under common law court systems like the ones that exist in England and the United States, there are two rules that determine who pays court costs and attorney’s fees. Under the English rule, followed in England and Wales, the loser pays these fees and costs. Believing that “costs follow the event”, a winning party is entitled to an order that will allow the recovery of reasonable costs expended during the course of the litigation. These costs can include witness fees, attorney fees and professional fees for non-witnesses.

A different rule is followed in the United States, however. Under the “American Rule”, each party to a lawsuit pays his own costs, irrespective of who won or lost. This rule allows individuals to pursue litigation without fear that costs will be excessive. There are exceptions, however, where costs are allocated to the losing side under certain circumstances. The exceptions vary by state and also by the type of case. 

On example of an exception is in certain contract cases where the parties to the contract have agreed beforehand who will pay court costs and fees when a suit is filed over disputed provisions. State and federal statutes can also dictate who will have to pay court costs in a given situation. A Wisconsin law, for example, requires the loser to pay attorney fees where an appeal was filed solely to delay proceedings. Judges can order the losing side to pay costs when it is “equitable” or fair for them to do so. In certain cases, a judge can order the loser to pay costs when the underlying lawsuit filed was frivolous or without grounds and the defendant wins.

If you have filed a lawsuit or are thinking of doing so and are worried about paying costs and attorney’s fees, you should consult a lawyer and learn more about the specific law in your area with respect to these items.

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