Posted in Commercial Litigation by

Quality legal help doesn’t come cheap. This means even winning comes with its costs when it comes to the courtroom. Fortunately, there’s still hope. In Utah, like in other jurisdictions, the winning party has the chance to convince the court to force the losing party to cover whatever costs were spent on attorney fees.

Of course, there is never any certainty how the court will rule. Nevertheless, a good attorney can advise you on the risks of a particular case, including the odds that you’ll be reimbursed for your attorney fees. He or she can also give you an idea of what additional costs—court filing fees, for instance—you are likely to occur. From there, it’s up to you to determine whether or not you feel the case is worth taking to court.

Contracts

Attorney fee provisions in contracts are very common. They usually explain that if a dispute regarding the contract arises and court proceedings are necessary to enforce the contract, the prevailing party can seek reasonable attorney fees from the losing party. Some form of this attorney fee provision can be found in real estate agreements such as rental agreements, consulting contracts, employment agreements, and many other contracts.

An attorney fee clause is usually mutually beneficial in that it allows either party to recover its attorney fees if it prevails. In some rare instances, attorney fee provisions attempt to benefit only one party. However, under Utah law, an attorney fee provision is available to any party who wins. In other words, this law makes any one-sided contract with respect to attorney fees a mutually beneficial contract.

Statutes

There are also many statutes that provide for attorney fees in various types of legal disputes. This means that even if the parties did not agree to an attorney fee provision, the prevailing party may be entitled to reasonable reimbursement for the cost of attorney fees. Examples of attorney fee provisions in federal statutes can be found in the Fair Labor Standards Act, which governs minimum wage and overtime requirements, the Fair Housing Act, which protects against housing discrimination, and the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, which protects against abusive debt-collection practices. The list goes on and on.

There are also plenty of statutes specific to Utah that provide for attorney fees. For example, if a contractor fails to pay his subcontractors or supplies, Utah statutes state that he can be liable for attorney fees related to resolving this dispute. In trust disputes, a court can award reasonable attorney fees to any party to the controversy. And in certain nuisance proceedings, attorney fees may be available.

One Utah statute, the bad-faith statute, applies to all areas of law. It allows a judge to award attorney fees if a case does not have merit and is essentially a waste of everyone’s time. Note, however, that judges rarely award fees under this statute, so it is generally best not to consider this statute when evaluating a case.

An Exception

Even if attorney fees are available under a statute or a contract, the prevailing party may not be able to recover all these fees under Utah rules. This can be accomplished through an offer of judgment. Say a party sued for $20,000 offers to settle the claim for $10,000, and the suing party prevails in an amount not more than $10,000. The original party that sued cannot recover attorney fees incurred after the offer, even if these fees would have been authorized by statute or contract.

If you have been sued or are considering suing another party, an experienced attorney can help you evaluate the best course of action, explaining how attorney fees play into the analysis. Also, if you are drafting a contract, an attorney can help you include an attorney fees provision that will protect you if litigation arises from the contract. Whatever your needs may be, please do not hesitate to reach out to discuss your particular case.

joseph-g-ballstaedt
Joe G. Ballstaedt
801.365.1021
Joe@snjlegal.com

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