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Getting Attorneys Fees: When Are You the “Prevailing Party?”

Screenshot 2023-06-27 at 1.39.44 PM

When you have a business dispute, or a potential one, one prevailing question is whether it’s worth it financially to go to court. After all, you’ll have to pay an attorney, and depending on the complexity of the case, paying an attorney can eat into the amount that you would win in court, even if you are successful.

Prevailing Party Attorneys Fees

But a contract with a prevailing party attorneys fee provision, avoids this problem. If you do win your case, you can get paid your attorneys fees from the other side. Now, with this in your contract, you have some assurance that the other side will both have to pay you your contractual damages, and pay your attorneys fees, if you are the winner or “prevailing party” at the end of the case.

Who is the Prevailing Party? 

But at the end of your case, will you even know if you are the winner? Sometimes, that’s not such an easy question to answer—even if the case did end up with you getting paid all, or most, of your contractual damages.

Imagine these scenarios, and ask yourself whether you have “won” your case in each of them:

  • You file a breach of contract lawsuit, asking for $20,000. The Court finds you are entitled to $11,000.
  • You file a breach of contract case, and the court finds that you get all of your contractual damages. But the Defendant also had counterclaims against you, and the court finds that the Defendant’s counterclaim also has merit, and is successful as well.
  • You file a lawsuit with 5 causes of action (i.e., claims against the other side). You get all your damages—but only on one of those counts, the court finding that your other 4 counts are not valid.

Asking for Fees

At the end of your case, you will ask the court to award you your attorneys fees under your contract, assuming you “won” your case. But a court doesn’t just look at whether you got awarded the money or damages that you wanted in your case. The court will look to the totality of the outcome of your case.

So, in the second example above, you “won” all the money that you said you were owed. But you also “lost” on 4 of your 5 causes of action. The court could find you were not the “prevailing party,” and yes, it does happen that someone gets everything they ask for at the end of a case, but are not the “prevailing party” for the purpose of attorneys fees.

Be Careful What You File

This is why attorneys need to be careful about filing multiple causes of action. Certainly, an attorney should file as many causes of action as are necessary and viable. But filing too many, thus including causes of action that do not have merit, can result in a court finding that you don’t get your attorney fees, even if you otherwise “won” your case.

What strategy is best in your business law case?  Call our West Palm Beach business litigation attorneys at Pike & Lustig today.




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