How Much Does It Cost to Sue Someone & Is It Worth It | Fiscal Tiger (2023)

Civil lawsuits are when a plaintiff claims that another party has failed to live up to a legal duty or obligation, and that it has caused the plaintiff significant distress or harm. They can be your only solution when you’ve been wronged outside the scope of the criminal justice system. If prosecutors or police won’t or can’t get involved, civil lawsuits might be your only recourse.

Moving forward with a civil suit warrants careful consideration. Not only can they be very expensive, but filing a civil suit rashly generally won’t end well. You need to make sure that you have good cause to move forward, and that a lawyer will even take your case in the first place.

Table of Contents

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  • 1 Civil Lawsuit Costs: How Costs are Determined
  • 2 Attorney Fees for a Civil Lawsuit
    • 2.1 Percentage of Amount Recovered
    • 2.2 Retainer Arrangements and Hourly Fees
    • 2.3 Pro Bono
  • 3 Court Costs for Civil Suits
  • 4 Should You Sue? When a Lawsuit is Worth Filing
    • 4.1 Understanding Damages and Cause

Civil Lawsuit Costs: How Costs are Determined

One thing to understand about filing a civil lawsuit is that it very well may end up costing you money, or at least significantly reduce the amount that you win. While most people understand that you will have to pay the attorney for his or her time, there are several other costs to take into account. These include filing fees, witness payments, and document preparation. The legal system has hole to jump through, and most of those steps require some sort of fee. There is no simple answer for how much a civil suit will cost you, because it will depend on your attorney and where you are.

Attorney Fees for a Civil Lawsuit

However, the biggest cost of a lawsuit is usually attorney’s fees. Under the American rule, each side is responsible for paying for their own attorney. There are some exceptions, but generally it depends on the state you live in. Some of the most common exceptions are in anti discrimination lawsuits, or in cases where both parties signed a contract stating that attorney’s fees would be paid by one party. Additionally, some states have laws in place that will require a plaintiff to pay for the defendants’ attorney’s fees if the lawsuit has no basis and is a waste of the court’s time.

So again, be careful when filing a lawsuit, because attorneys are not cheap.

Percentage of Amount Recovered

One of the most common ways that lawyers charge is by a percentage of the amount won, typically called a contingency fee. This is typically around 30-40 percent. You may be able to negotiate this fee with your lawyer, but be prepared for an uphill battle.

Many people view this arrangement as worth it, because it gives your attorney extra incentive to win your case. However, be sure to read the fine print of your contract. You may be required to pay court fees as they come up or to reimburse your attorney at the conclusion of your case, regardless of whether you win or not. Be sure to clarify with your attorney what you will and will not be responsible to pay in the event that you lose.

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Retainer Arrangements and Hourly Fees

Alternatively, your attorney might prefer a retainer arrangement. This can mean two vastly different things, depending on how it’s worded. A “retainer fee” is like a downpayment; your lawyer wants to see that you have the funds to pay him or her before they get to work. This will be used towards your future legal expense.

Having a lawyer “on retainer”, though, is something that most individuals cannot afford. It means you pay an agreement upon amount regularly, and in exchange you have someone to turn to for legal services whenever you need. This is mostly used by businesses or people who frequently run into legal problems. Because small businesses face so many legal obstacles and responsibilities, it is common for them to retain a legal advisor or attorney even if they don’t plan to sue or be sued.

Hourly fees are the most common way that lawyers charge. This is usually hundreds of dollars and hour, and they will charge you for every minute that spend on a phone call, answering emails, or submitting documents on your behalf. They will send you an itemized list detailing to the minute how much time they’ve spent on your case, and it’s in your interest to review it carefully. More experienced lawyers will traditionally cost more than less experienced ones.

Pro Bono

You might be lucky enough to have a lawyer work on your case pro bono. This means that your lawyer will work on your case for free! Which cases a lawyer works on pro bono are up to their personal or their firm’s discretion, but many bar associations require that lawyers work a certain number of hour pro bono in order to provide legal aid to those who can’t afford it. Look on the American Bar’s website to find pro bono legal help in your area.

Court Costs for Civil Suits

In civil lawsuits, costs are often covered by the losing side. So if you are a plaintiff in a successful lawsuit, your costs will be covered by the defendant. Keep in mind, however, that some states put a limit on how much the losing side is required to cover, so ask your attorney for an estimate of what you’ll be held responsible for before you decide if filing is worth it for you.

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Also keep in mind that court costs will pile up the longer the case goes on for. Court costs for small claims court are less than or around $100, depending on the amount of the claim. However, civil court claims can be tens of thousand dollars, depending on whether or not it goes to trial.

Should You Sue? When a Lawsuit is Worth Filing

If you genuinely believe that you have a case and you are willing to risk the above costs, it’s time to seek a lawyer’s advice. Ultimately, no matter what you’ve read online or how similar your friend’s case was to your own, a lawyer is the only one who will really be able to tell if your case is worth pursuing. Before you proceed forward on your own, get a lawyer’s opinion.

Understanding Damages and Cause

But what if you’re not sure whether your case is even worth talking to a lawyer? You need to first understand some basics about civil cases.

While news media often report damages in the millions, those are often punitive damages, which are not always awarded in civil lawsuits. Punitive damages are monetary amounts set by a judge meant to punish the defendant and deter others from behaving similarly. Whether punitive damages could even be awarded in your case will depend on the state you live in. Some states require the possibility to be clearly spelled out in the letter of law; others don’t even allow for the possibility.

Compensatory damages are just to compensate you for whatever wrong occured. Basically, it’s the amount required to get you back to where you were before the offending accident happened, barring legal fees. If you were injured as a result of the defendant, compensatory damages might be the amount of your hospital bill, nothing more.

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Before you even get that far, though, you need to understand cause. While you might feel wronged, consider if the offender had an actual legal obligation or duty to you. This obligation may not need to be clearly written out in a mutually signed contract for you to proceed (although that can only help), but it has to rise above social niceties or expectations. Your landlord is required to provide certain necessities, but these requirements are often minimal. In order for your lawsuit to be worth it, you need to consider whether or not the offender had a formal obligation to act differently.

Filing a lawsuit is a serious situation, and it warrants a lot of careful consideration. Not only will this suit eat up a lot of your time, it will likely take a large bite out of your bank account as well. However, if you feel that it’s worth it to pursue righting this wrong, see if an attorney believes that you have a case. Only if you have legal cause to move forward and a strong conviction for the tough road ahead should you move forward.

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How much does it cost to sue someone in California? ›

Filing Fees
Claims for $1,500.00 or less$30.00
Claims from $1,500.01 to $5,000.00$50.00
Claims from $5,000.01 to $10,000.00$75.00
Persons or Business who have filed more than 12 claims in CA in the previous 12 mos.$100.00
Service of Documents by Certified Mail$15.00 (per defendant) [Fee waiver does not cover]
6 more rows

How much does it cost to sue someone in Florida? ›

Initial Filing Fees
Filing TypeCost
Claims of not more than $1,000 filed simultaneously with replevin of property that is subject of claim$130
Small claims less than $100$55
Small claims of $100, up to $500$80
Small claims more than $500, up to $2,500$175
1 more row

How do I sue someone for more than $10000? ›

If you wish to recover more than $10,000, you must consider another court, and in most cases, the assistance of an attorney. If the amount you are asking for is over $10,000, you cannot file in justice court. You cannot just say you will take less to get into this court.

How much does suing someone cost? ›

So How Much Does It Cost to Sue Someone? It's difficult to come up with an average number for how much suing someone costs, but you should expect to pay somewhere around $10,000 for a simple lawsuit. If your lawsuit is complicated and requires a lot of expert witnesses, the cost will be much, much higher.

How do I sue someone for more than $10000 in Florida? ›

If you are suing someone for an amount more than $15,000, file a lawsuit with the circuit court. Generally, the procedure to sue in the circuit court is the same as in the county court.

Can I sue without a lawyer in Florida? ›

If you cannot find a lawyer to represent you, you can pursue your claim or defend a lawsuit by appearing without a lawyer (except a business and corporate entity must be represented by a lawyer).

How do I file a civil lawsuit without a lawyer in Florida? ›

How do I start a new lawsuit without an attorney?
  1. A caption containing the names of the parties in the upper left-hand corner,
  2. The word "COMPLAINT" immediately below the caption,
  3. A statement of jurisdiction and venue (Explain)
  4. A statement of facts.
  5. A statement of the claim.
  6. The remedy requested.

What are the easiest things to sue for? ›

The law must support your contention that you were harmed by the illegal actions of another.
  • Bad Debt. A type of contract case. ...
  • Breach of Contract. ...
  • Breach of Warranty. ...
  • Failure to Return a Security Deposit. ...
  • Libel or Slander (Defamation). ...
  • Nuisance. ...
  • Personal Injury. ...
  • Product Liability.

What is the most you can sue someone for? ›

The limit for the 50 states is usually up to 10,000. Only a few states allow for more than that. Still, the limit on those states only goes up as high as $15,000. As far as the minimum amount you can actually sue someone for, there is no limit.

Can I sue someone for emotional distress? ›

You can claim for the emotional distress the discrimination has caused you - this is called 'injury to feelings'. You'll need to say how the discrimination made you feel. Ask your family, friends, colleagues, medical professionals or support workers if they'll be witnesses to how the discrimination affected you.

Who pays costs in a court case? ›

What's the general rule? The general rule is that the loser pays the winner's costs. In practice, the court has flexibility as to when one party may be responsible in whole or in part for the other party's costs. There are also exceptions to the general rule.

How can I sue someone? ›

Checklist — If You Are Suing
  1. Figure Out How to Name the Defendant.
  2. Ask for Payment.
  3. Find the Right Court to File Your Claim.
  4. Fill Out Your Court Forms.
  5. File Your Claim.
  6. Serve Your Claim.
  7. Go to Court.

Who pays legal costs in small claims court? ›

The general rule in civil claims, is that the successful party can expect the court to order the unsuccessful party to pay a contribution towards the successful party's costs. Costs are at the discretion of the Judge but the risk of having to pay costs can be a significant one.

Can you sue for emotional distress in Florida? ›

Under Florida law, trauma victims can seek financial compensation for emotional distress after all types of accidents. If you have been seriously injured under circumstances in which someone else or a company may be to blame, you may be entitled to compensation.

What is the maximum amount you can sue for in civil court in Florida? ›

County Court Jurisdictional Changes

County court jurisdictional thresholds increase to $30,000 on January 1, 2020, and to $50,000 on January 1, 2023. Filers will be required to include a civil cover sheet specifying the dollar amount in dispute in cases exceeding $8,000 in value.

Can someone sue you after insurance pays Florida? ›

In most cases, a person cannot sue you after your insurance pays the plaintiff. If the at-fault driver's insurance company settles with the injured person, the settlement documents will include a release of all claims.

What can I sue for in Florida? ›

You can file a lawsuit for pain and suffering and other damages provided your injuries are permanent or cause significant and permanent loss of a bodily function. Lawsuits may also be brought in cases resulting in scarring and disfigurement or death.

What can you sue someone for in Florida? ›

Some examples of emotional distress lawsuits that involve negligence may include: drunk driving wrongful death claims. medical malpractice birth injury claims. car accident personal injury claims.

How do you fight a case without a lawyer? ›

Provision for Fighting One's Own Case as per Advocate's Act. Section 32 of the Advocate's Act clearly mentions, the court may allow any person to appear before it even if he is not an advocate. Therefore, one gets the statutory right to defend one's own case through Advocate Act in India.

How do I start a civil lawsuit in Florida? ›

How Do I File a Small Claim Case? You, the plaintiff, must file a “Statement of Claim” form, available at your Clerk's office. This must be fully completed and signed to receive a pre-trial conference date. If your claim is based upon written documentation, attach a copy of the contract to the Statement of Claim form.

How do I sue someone who owes me money in Florida? ›

If the person who owes you money is in Florida and the amount is $5,000 or less, you can file in small claims court.
File your case.
  1. Give the originals of all documents to the County Clerk.
  2. Write down the case number the clerk provides.
  3. Pay any filing fee required.
  4. Ask the clerk to sign your summons.

How much does it cost to take someone to small claims court in Florida? ›

Certified mail to defendants residing in the State of Florida only for a fee of $7.82 per defendant.
County Civil (Small Claims) Fees.
ItemFee Amount
Small claims less than $100.00$55.00
Small claims $100 to $500.00$80.00
Small claims $500.01 to $2500.00$175.00
Small claims $2,500.01 to $8,000$300.00
18 more rows

How much money can you sue for in small claims court in California? ›

If you are an individual and want to file a lawsuit for $10,000 or less, you have the option of filing a small claims case or a limited civil case. If you are a business, you can file in small claims court for $5,000 or less.

How long do you have to sue someone in California? ›

For example, the California statute of limitations is two years for oral contracts, four years for written contracts, two years for personal injury matters, and three years for personal property damage cases. If you don't file within the proper period, you lose your right to sue.

How do I sue someone in California? ›

If you decide to go to court, follow these steps:
  1. Figure Out How to Name the Defendant.
  2. Ask for Payment.
  3. Find the Right Court to File Your Claim.
  4. Fill Out Your Court Forms.
  5. File Your Claim.
  6. Serve Your Claim.
  7. Go to Court.

What is the maximum amount you can sue for in small claims court in California? ›

Small claims courts have an upper limit on the amount of money that a party can claim. You can sue for up to $10,000, if you are an individual or a sole proprietor. Corporations and other entities are limited to $5,000.

Can you sue someone for emotional distress? ›

You can claim for the emotional distress the discrimination has caused you - this is called 'injury to feelings'. You'll need to say how the discrimination made you feel. Ask your family, friends, colleagues, medical professionals or support workers if they'll be witnesses to how the discrimination affected you.

Can I sue someone who owes me money? ›

To win a case, you need to have some evidence that your friend owes you money. This doesn't have to be a written legal contract, with witnesses etc. Suing someone for money is a civil case and the judge will decide who wins “on the balance of probabilities”, looking at whose story seems most likely.

What is the maximum amount you can sue for in civil court California? ›

In California, an individual can collect up to $7,500 in small claims court, while corporations and limited liability companies are still limited to $5,000. Keep in mind that the cost of hiring an attorney and spending time in civil court can quickly exceed such limits.

How long does a civil lawsuit take in California? ›

All told, getting to trial in California usually takes up to a year, and in exceptional cases, several years, while an appeal tacks on another 1-2 years. According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics's 2005 national survey, the median length of time across the country is 22 months from complaint to trial.

Can you sue for emotional distress in California? ›

So yes, as a general matter, you can sue for emotional distress in California. In fact, whether you are filing an insurance claim or pursuing a personal injury action in court, your emotional distress damages may account for a significant part of your financial recovery.

How do I start a lawsuit? ›

You start a lawsuit by filing a complaint. In some circumstances, you file a petition or a motion. The court has several complaint forms that you may use in drafting your complaint. The forms are available online and at the Pro Se Intake Unit.


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