Deciding whether or not to sue someone is a big decision that shouldn’t be taken lightly. Lawsuits require a significant investment of both time and money. Before taking legal action, it’s important to have a realistic understanding of the potential costs involved. This will help ensure you are prepared for the road ahead.
One of the most basic costs associated with suing someone are the court fees. These are fees you must pay to file the initial paperwork and various motions with the court. The specific fees will depend on the court where you file your lawsuit and the type of legal action. For example, claims filed in small claims court often have lower filing fees than cases filed in district or county courts.
Court fees alone can range from a couple hundred dollars on the low end to a few thousand dollars for more complex civil filings. For instance, the fee just to file a civil claim in a California superior court starts at $435. Meanwhile, filing a claim of unlimited value there costs $450. Other motions and paperwork filed over the course of the case will incur additional fees as well.
While court fees may seem insignificant compared to other lawsuit costs, they are not negligible. Coming up with these fees requires planning, especially if you are filing multiple documents and motions. You don’t want to complete all the legwork of building your case just to be derailed by a couple thousand dollars in court fees you can’t afford.
Easily the largest expense associated with suing someone will be hiring an attorney. While technically you can represent yourself, that is rarely a wise move except in the most clear cut and straightforward of cases. The risks of navigating complex legal procedures without adequate experience and expertise are simply too great.
Attorneys charge either an hourly rate or a flat fee for taking on a case. Their hourly rates can range from around $200 per hour on the very low end to over $500 per hour at large prestigious firms. The more experience and specialization an attorney has, the higher their rates will be.
The total attorney fees vary dramatically based on the complexity of the case and how aggressively it is litigated. A relatively simple breach of contract case could potentially cost between $10,000 and $30,000 in legal fees. However, complex lawsuits involving things like medical malpractice or product liability can easily incur over $100,000 in attorney fees over the life of the litigation.
It’s very difficult to predict exactly what the total attorney costs will be. Cases involving uncooperative opposing counsel can drag out for years, running up fees extremely quickly. However, an aggressive litigation strategy doesn’t always achieve better results. Savvy attorneys know how to achieve the client’s goals efficiently. Don’t be afraid to discuss how your attorney can manage fees responsibly.
During the discovery phase of a lawsuit, each side has the opportunity to obtain information from the other related to the case. This includes deposing witnesses, requesting production of documents, and sometimes hiring expert witnesses. The expenses involved in discovery can be substantial.
Depositions require court reporters and videographers. The plaintiff is usually responsible for the costs of depositions they request. The same is true for requesting copies of documents, data, and other evidence from the defendant. Carefully evaluate if each deposition or discovery request is absolutely necessary or if the information could be obtained through less costly means.
Retaining expert witnesses is often crucial for more complex and technical cases. However, they charge hefty fees which often total tens of thousands of dollars or more. Identify cases where expert testimony is unlikely to impact the outcome early. You will save significantly on costs.
Look for ways to keep discovery controlled and focused. You want to obtain the information necessary to successfully argue your case, but don’t go overboard. Discovery costs can quickly skyrocket otherwise.
Suing someone requires dedicating a substantial amount of your personal time. There are court filings to prepare, depositions to attend, status hearings to go to, and many other legal proceedings. You may be required to take considerable time off work as a result. For most people, this lost income represents a significant financial burden in and of itself.
While an aggressive litigation schedule can sometimes achieve faster results, it also requires the plaintiff dedicate more of their time. Attorneys may be able to handle some matters on their own, but your personal participation is crucial. Talk to your employer honestly about the time commitment a lawsuit will require. See if a flexible schedule or remote work arrangement could help minimize lost income.
Every hour you’re sitting in a deposition or court hearing is an hour you could have been earning income. Factor your estimated lost wages into the total potential costs of suing someone. While not technically a lawsuit expense, lost income can represent one of the larger financial impacts.
It’s not just bank accounts that take a hit when suing someone. Lawsuits are incredibly stressful events that will require tremendous emotional energy to get through. The legal twists and turns along the way can leave you frustrated and drained. This toll on your overall well-being is a type of cost that can’t be measured in dollars and cents.
Suing someone with whom you have a personal relationship, such as a family member or former friend, is often particularly difficult emotionally. Even if you win, the bitterness and pain from the experience could last for years. Lawsuits have a way of bringing out the worst in people. Keeping your head held high through it all is challenging.
That’s not to say suing someone you have an emotional connection to is always the wrong choice. But you must go into it with eyes wide open about the potential relational consequences. Be honest with yourself about whether justice or resolution is truly worth the emotional costs you’ll likely incur. The legal system can be coldly transactional. Don’t underestimate how it will impact you personally.
Costs If You Lose
There’s no guarantee that suing someone leads to a positive legal outcome for the plaintiff. Many factors influence the eventual verdict or settlement. It’s possible, even if unlikely, that you could lose outright after investing all the previously described costs. This is the worst-case scenario.
To make matters worse, the U.S. legal system often requires plaintiffs to pay at least a portion of the winning side’s attorney fees and costs. The details vary based on the type of case and jurisdiction. But losing definitely compounds the financial downside in the form of having to reimburse your opponent’s expenses.
This is unquestionably a gamble. No reputable attorney can ever guarantee victory, no matter how strong your case looks on paper. Understanding that suing someone often means putting your own finances on the line is sobering. Don’t proceed unless you can absorb these potential consequences.
Strategies for Managing Lawsuit Costs
Filing a lawsuit will clearly place major demands on your time, energy, and money. However, there are some strategies you can employ to maximize your chances of prevailing while minimizing associated expenses.
Hire an Attorney on Contingency
Rather than charging hourly or a fixed rate, attorneys working on contingency only get paid if you win your case or receive a settlement. If you lose, you don’t owe the attorney anything beyond certain case expenses they fronted.
Contingency arrangements help plaintiffs lacking the financial means to pay attorney fees up front access the legal system. The attorney essentially shares some of the risk in exchange for a percentage (often 30-40%) of any final award or settlement.
Contingency agreements aren’t an option for every type of lawsuit, such as divorce cases and criminal matters. Most personal injury and worker’s compensation cases qualify. However, private attorneys can choose which contingency cases they take on. Shop around to find one willing to accept yours.
Seek Out Low-Cost or Free Legal Aid
For those unable to afford an attorney at all, looking to legal aid organizations is an option. These non-profits provide free or very low-cost legal services to qualifying individuals and families.
Legal aid focuses on helping people who genuinely have financial need access legal representation. Those with incomes below a set threshold who also have reasonable cases are good candidates.
If you are very low income, but have a case with possible damages, a legal aid lawyer may be able to refer you to a private attorney willing to take your case on contingency. This provides the best odds of getting quality legal help.
Consider Third-Party Litigation Financing
A relatively new option for funding civil lawsuits is litigation financing companies. These firms provide upfront capital to cover attorney fees and other litigation costs in exchange for a share of any eventual settlement or award. It shifts some risk off individuals with strong cases but limited funds.
Litigation financing is still a small but growing industry in the U.S. Critics argue the practice encourages frivolous lawsuits and inflames legal costs. However, proponents say it allows everyday people equal access to the legal system against well-resourced defendants. Rules around litigation financing vary greatly between different states.
This is very much an option of last resort to weigh carefully. Make sure to read all agreements thoroughly and consult an independent attorney before signing. The financially obligating terms mean you must win your case to come out ahead.
Prioritize Early Case Resolution
Court cases have a way of taking on lives of their own. An initial filing can quickly snowball into months or years of legal wrangling. The most sensible way to control costs is resolving matters as quickly as responsibly possible.
Your attorney should advise you honestly on prospects for settlement at each stage. Be open to reasonable proposals to end things. Fighting just to fight will burn extraordinary amounts of time and money.
Don’t enter any negotiation completely rigid. Compromise is part of the legal process. Keep sight of your ultimate goals and why you filed suit to begin with. Ending the ordeal sooner often serves those objectives best in the end.
Suing someone has the potential to achieve justice, compensate you for harm, or fulfill other objectives. But the decision requires carefully weighing both the financial and emotional costs against those desired outcomes. Understanding realistic expenses means avoiding nasty surprises down the road.
With prudent planning and diligent execution, it’s possible to minimize the costs associated with litigation. However, suing someone will always require tremendous commitment and perseverance. There are no easy paths to courtroom victory. Don’t initiate legal action until fully prepared for the demands ahead. With eyes wide open, your chances of emerging positively are greatly enhanced.