In some cases, people who win lawsuits can ask the court to order the other party to pay their attorney fees and court costs, as long as those are reasonable. However, this generally only happens when a North Carolina statute specifically says attorney fees can be ordered by the court.
If there is no statute allowing the court to order the losing party to pay the winner’s attorney fees or court costs, the court generally can’t order them.
In some cases, there are additional rules that must be followed. For example, the court may need to find that certain facts are true before it is allowed to order payment of attorney fees and court costs.
For example, in a case where the losing party gave an unwarranted refusal of a settlement offer, the court would have to find that the refusal was indeed unwarranted, as opposed to the mere rejection of an unfavorable offer.
Common cases where attorney fees might be available
North Carolina general statute § 6-21 is one statute that spells out some situations where the winner of a lawsuit may seek payment of their attorney fees and court costs. There are many other statutes, however, that allow judges to order the payment of attorney fees and/or court costs.
There are many types of cases listed in the statute, but most of them do not involve ordinary individuals who have been wrongly sued. For example, attorney fees are often available in cases alleging appropriation of trade secrets. These cases would generally involve an employee, an ex-employee or a business competitor.
According to § 6-21, there are several types of cases where a winning party might seek payment of their attorney fees:
- Personal injury and property damage claims
- Actions for divorce or alimony
- Special actions for the partition of real or personal property
- Child custody proceedings
- Paternity proceedings
- Civil claims for assault, battery, false imprisonment, libel, slander, malicious prosecution, criminal conversation or seduction
In other types of cases, the judge may order the losing party to pay attorney fees based on their wrongdoing. For example, the court might order the plaintiff to pay the defendant’s attorney fees and court costs if the plaintiff knew or should have known their case was frivolous and malicious.
Ultimately, the award of attorney fees depends on two things: 1) it must be authorized by statute and 2) the trial judge must decide to order it. This requires the parties to make arguments to the judge about whether an award of attorney fees is warranted.
Your attorney should work closely with you to determine the most convincing argument. Therefore, it is important to work with a compassionate lawyer who will go the extra mile.