Who pays the defendant’s legal costs in a civil suit if the plaintiff loses?

UPDATED: Jun 21, 2011

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Who pays the defendant’s legal costs in a civil suit if the plaintiff loses?

I see these ads all the time, where law firms state that they will represent you in a case “free of charge”. Their fees will only arise if you win the case, fees will then be deducted from amounts awarded to you. What I am totally unsure of is in these civil cases, what happens when you lose the case? Are you not responsible for paying sums awarded to the defendant and all his/her legal cost?

Asked on June 21, 2011 under Business Law, New York


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 11 years ago | Contributor

Usually, the plaintiff does *not* have to pay the defendant's legal fees; whether you agree with it, under the "American Rule," the winning defendant *usually* cannot recover legal fees from the person who sued him or her. (Under the "English Rule," a winning defendant in Britain would have a good chance to recover these fees.)

There are some exceptions, but they mostly happen if the lawsuit is deemed to be "frivolous"--to not have a good basis in either law and/or fact. For example, from my own experience: person A sued person B claiming that B had injured them with B's car. It turned out A was simply lying and B had never hit him--it was a near-miss. B was able to recover legal fees because there was no grounds for the suit.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The Answer(s) provided above are for general information only. The attorney providing the answer was not serving as the attorney for the person submitting the question or in any attorney-client relationship with such person. Laws may vary from state to state, and sometimes change. Tiny variations in the facts, or a fact not set forth in a question, often can change a legal outcome or an attorney's conclusion. Although AttorneyPages.com has verified the attorney was admitted to practice law in at least one jurisdiction, he or she may not be authorized to practice law in the jurisdiction referred to in the question, nor is he or she necessarily experienced in the area of the law involved. Unlike the information in the Answer(s) above, upon which you should NOT rely, for personal advice you can rely upon we suggest you retain an attorney to represent you.

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