Suing another person or company in civil court can be an expensive and time-consuming process. The exact cost of filing a lawsuit and seeing it through to completion depends on various factors, including the type of case, the amount of damages sought, and the complexity of the legal arguments involved. However, it is possible to break down the typical components of suing someone and get an estimate of the potential costs.
The biggest cost associated with suing someone is likely to be attorney fees. Hiring a lawyer to represent you and handle your lawsuit can be expensive, often costing hundreds of dollars per hour. Simple cases may only require 10-20 hours of an attorney’s time, but complex litigation can result in legal fees in the tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars. In addition to hourly legal fees, many attorneys require an upfront retainer before they will take on a case. This retainer often ranges from $2,000-$5,000 for a relatively straightforward matter.
To initiate a lawsuit, the plaintiff (the party suing) must file papers with the court and pay a filing fee. This fee varies by state and by the amount of damages sought, but generally ranges from $100-$500 for most civil suits. If the plaintiff wins the case, these fees may potentially be recovered from the defendant as part of the judgment.
Service of Process Fees
Once a lawsuit is filed, the defendant must be officially notified through a process called service of process. This is usually performed by a county sheriff’s department, a professional process server, or a private investigator. Expect to pay $50-$150 or more to properly serve the defendant with notice of the lawsuit.
The pretrial discovery process involves gathering information related to the case through methods like depositions, interrogatories, requests for production of documents, and more. While attorneys handle most of the work, there are costs associated with discovery too. Depositions require payment of court reporter fees, for example, while some documents obtained through discovery may need to be professionally printed or converted to digital formats.
Expert Witness Fees
Many types of civil lawsuits require testimony from expert witnesses to establish technical or specialized points. These experts are paid hourly fees for their deposition and trial testimony, usually ranging from $150 to $500 per hour or more depending on the field of expertise. Their travel expenses may also need to be covered by the party that calls them to testify.
A small percentage of lawsuits will actually proceed to a trial and verdict. Going to trial significantly increases the overall cost of litigation. Effective trial attorneys usually charge higher hourly rates for time spent in trial versus general case preparation and discovery work. There are also costs associated with courtroom technology, visual aids and exhibits, travel and lodging for attorneys and witnesses, and more. Trials can last days or weeks, rapidly driving up expenses.
If a party loses at trial, they can appeal the verdict to a higher court. The appeals process triggers a whole new round of attorney fees, research costs, court filing fees, transcript costs, and other expenses. Appeals can prolong the litigation for a year or more.
The Potential Costs Are High But Vary
While it’s not possible to pin down an exact price tag for suing someone, the costs clearly add up quickly. Contingency fee arrangements with attorneys and recovering some fees from the defendant can help defray the overall price of litigation. However, it’s important to carefully consider whether suing someone is economically worthwhile given the high expenses involved. An experienced attorney can provide greater insight into estimated costs given the unique circumstances of your case.