In a civil lawsuit, one person or business (the plaintiff) sues another person or business (the defendant) for harming them in some way, such as by breaking a contract or a lease or causing injuries in a car accident. If the plaintiff successfully shows harm done by the defendant, he or she will be awarded compensation. Civil suits don’t punish a wrongdoer for committing a crime; rather, they are intended to compensate the victim for being hurt. Anyone, including a business or other entity, can file a civil suit. They often don’t reach the trial stage, ending instead with a settlement between the parties. A plaintiff starts a civil suit by hiring an attorney, filing the suit, making the case, and then going to trial or settling out of court.
As with any legal matter, it’s best to hire a specialist who has extensive experience in that area of law. Civil attorneys, such as McMaster Law in Marietta, Georgia, Michelle L. Wein in Atlanta, Georgia, and the Law Offices of Jeffrey S. Kimmel in New York City, specialize in civil litigation.
The most important variable in determining the cost of the lawsuit is the amount of time the attorney spends on the case; if it goes to trial, the cost will be far greater.
Hourly fee versus contingency
In most civil cases, the attorney will be paid an hourly fee, a contingency fee or a combination of both. An attorney’s hourly rate depends on the attorney’s experience, operating expenses, the location of the practice and the status of the law firm. Smaller firms or less experienced attorneys will charge $100-$300 per hour, while larger, more powerful firms with in-demand attorneys may charge as much as $500 per hour.
Certain types of civil cases, such as personal injury, are likely to be charged on a contingency basis. This means that the attorney will receive a certain percentage of the settlement or judgement of the case — typically 30-40 percent. If the plaintiff loses the case, the attorney will still charge a fee; make sure this amount is agreed to and specified in the contract before moving forward.
In some cases, particularly those anticipated to involve many depositions, the attorney will charge an hourly fee for the work done to prepare for trial, then a contingency fee for the trial itself.
In addition to paying attorney’s fees, plaintiffs are required to pay for court costs. These include filing, copying, expert witness and court reporter fees, as well as charges for transcripts and depositions. Civil suits can get very expensive very fast. If the plaintiff wins the case, he or she might be able to recover most of the costs as part of the judgement against the defendant. If the plaintiff loses, he or she usually must also pay the costs incurred by the defendant.
In Los Angeles Superior Court in California, plaintiffs face several typical costs:
- $320 complaint filing fee: This is paid first by the plaintiff filing the suit. The defendant pays the same amount as their first appearance fee.
- $40-$150 motion filing fee: The cost increases if a third party must file a motion. This fee is charged for every motion filed in a lawsuit; there’s no way to know in advance how many will be filed.
- $1,000-$2,000 for daily depositions: This is the cost to interview witnesses, including serving a deposition notice or subpoena on the witness; scheduling a time that’s convenient for the witness and the defendant’s attorney; and reserving a court reporter to officially transcribe the proceedings.
- $200-$300 for copies: If the plaintiff needs documents from the defendant, he or she usually must hire a bonded copy shop to bring their equipment to the place where the documents are located to make copies. Copy shops charge a setup fee plus a per-page charge.
- $200-$600 for expert witnesses: Expert witness include engineers, psychiatrists, economists, doctors, accident reconstructionists, etc. They charge from $200 to $400 per hour or more.
- $700 appeal filing fee: In addition to the filing fee, some plaintiffs must also pay several hundred dollars for a court clerk to prepare a record for appeal.