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legal news & tips for employees published by Law Office of Eugene Lee


How Much Do Lawsuits Cost?

People in the US love to rail about the fact that there are too many lawsuits, too many greedy plaintiffs gaming the system, too many people refusing to take responsibility for their own errors. Numerous websites have sprung up that have dedicated themselves to poking fun at stupid lawsuits.

But I’ve always wondered this about lawsuits — they are VERY, VERY expensive to bring, so where do all these greedy plaintiffs with frivolous lawsuits get the money to finance them? Do they really have $10,000 lying around to just throw away in a bid to waste everyone’s time, including theirs? Because $10,000 or so is probably the minimum it takes to bring a lawsuit nowadays.

In Los Angeles Superior Court in California, these are some of the costs typically associated with a lawsuit (in case you’re interested, here is the full LASC civil fee schedule ). Note, the costs are going up all the time thanks to inflation:

  1. Complaint filing fee : $320. You pay this to the Court at the initiation of your lawsuit. When the person you’re suing first appears in Court, he too has to pay the same fee as their "first appearance fee".
  2. Motion filing fee : $40. Unless you or your lawyer are near the courthouse, you may have to pay a third-party attorney service company to file your motion with the courthouse, or fax-file it for you. That’s another $50 to $100 per motion depending on your rush. There is no way to predict how many motions you will need to file in your lawsuit.
  3. Depositions : $1,000 to $2,000 per day. If you want to interview witnesses, you might be able to meet them informally and get their written declarations/affidavits for the price of a cup of coffee. But in many cases, you will probably have to formally "depose" them. That means serving a deposition notice/ subpoena on the witness, scheduling a time that’s convenient for the witness, the defendant and their attorney, and reserving a court report who can officially transcribe the proceedings. Reporters can charge $1,000 or more per day. You might also need to videotape the witness. If you’re not able to do it yourself, you will need to hire a certified videographer. That’s another $1,000 or more per day. If you need an interpreter for the witness, that’s an additional cost.
  4. Copies : If you need to obtain documents from the defendant to prove your case, in many cases you will need to hire a bonded copy shop to bring their scanners/copiers to the place where the documents are located, and make copies for you. They can charge a setup fee ($200 or so) plus a per page charge (10 to 40 cents per page).
  5. Experts : Many lawsuits require you to hire an expert who can testify in court about topics that are outside the knowledge of the everyday person. Experts can include engineers, psychiatrists/ psychologists, economists, physicians, human resource experts, accident reconstructionists, etc. Experts don’t come cheap, they can charge anywhere from $200 to $400 per hour or even more.
  6. Appeals (if necessary) : The filing fee for an appeal is roughly $700. You may also need to ask the court clerk to prepare a record for appeal that can cost hundreds more. If you need a written transcript of a court hearing to support your appeal, the costs varies widely but can be as much as $1,000.
  7. If you lose : If you lose your lawsuit, you will likely be on the hook for the costs of your opponent, which includes all of the above and more. If you’re particularly unlucky or your lawsuit is frivolous, the court could force you to also pay your opponent’s attorney fees. That bill can be astronomical given attorneys charge in the range of $200 to $1,000 per hour.

If you’re lucky, you won’t be paying any of the above costs yourself. Many lawsuits are funded by the lawyer, not the plaintiff. These are so-called contingency fee arrangements where the lawyer pays some, most or all of the costs and fees associated with the lawsuit and invests their time without charging the plaintiff. In return, the lawyer takes a percentage of the recovery from the lawsuit if you win (but they get nothing if you lose). So the lawyer ends up assuming most or all of the financial risk of the lawsuit.

In most cases, contingency fee lawyers aren’t going to want to invest their time and money into a case that’s frivolous. If they did, they wouldn’t be in business for very long.

So who’s funding all these frivolous lawsuits that are weighing down the US economy, clogging up our courts, burning up (lots of) cash, and wasting everyone’s time? Because I sure am not nor is anyone else I know.

If you’ve got a viewpoint on this, I’d be interested in hearing from you in the comment section below. I imagine defense lawyers would have a lot to say on this topic.



  • jeff colton

    There is another side to this.
    What about corporations that use lawsuits and threats of lawsuits to oppress competition?

    For instance, the agent Curtis Management (CMG) uses an aggressive campaign to collect fees for licensing on dead celebrities. CMG is famous for being overly and maliciously aggressive in protecting the “rights of publicity”.
    Many of those claims for ownership of celebrity rights for RoP are presumed and probably false. Some states have RoP, others do not. Recently CMG and the estate of Marilyn Monroe lost 2 cases when they sued 4 photographers for licensing their photos (despite having signed model releases).

    Judge Morrow (in California) and Judge McMahon (in New York) both ruled that because of the wording of her will, her rights of publicity ceased to exist at the time of her death and could not be transferred to heirs, beneficiaries or agents. Marilyn Monroe died in 1962, and the California RoP law wasn’t enacted until 1985.

    Both Courts concluded that neither New York nor California recognized any postmortem publicity rights at the time of her death. Therefore the subsequent enactment of such a statute in California was irrelevant since Marilyn Monroe could not dispose of a property interest through her will which did not then exist.

    So, for 20 years the estate and CMG have extorted fees and royalties forcing advertisers to pay tens of millions of dollars.

  • jeff colton

    There is another side to this.
    What about corporations that use lawsuits and threats of lawsuits to oppress competition?

    For instance, the agent Curtis Management (CMG) uses an aggressive campaign to collect fees for licensing on dead celebrities. CMG is famous for being overly and maliciously aggressive in protecting the “rights of publicity”.
    Many of those claims for ownership of celebrity rights for RoP are presumed and probably false. Some states have RoP, others do not. Recently CMG and the estate of Marilyn Monroe lost 2 cases when they sued 4 photographers for licensing their photos (despite having signed model releases).

    Judge Morrow (in California) and Judge McMahon (in New York) both ruled that because of the wording of her will, her rights of publicity ceased to exist at the time of her death and could not be transferred to heirs, beneficiaries or agents. Marilyn Monroe died in 1962, and the California RoP law wasn’t enacted until 1985.

    Both Courts concluded that neither New York nor California recognized any postmortem publicity rights at the time of her death. Therefore the subsequent enactment of such a statute in California was irrelevant since Marilyn Monroe could not dispose of a property interest through her will which did not then exist.

    So, for 20 years the estate and CMG have extorted fees and royalties forcing advertisers to pay tens of millions of dollars.

  • Mr. T

    This is some really good and (need to know) information…

  • Mr. T

    This is some really good and (need to know) information…

  • http://www.CALaborLaw.com Eugene Lee

    jeff,

    I think you make an excellent point. Absolutely, corporations DO have the financial resources to harass competitors or enemies with baseless litigation. For instance, the example you cite, CMG, calls to mind a category of litigants, called “patent trolls”, who file patents then sue huge companies for supposed patent infringement. I guess I was thinking more about individual litigants. But your point is fair! Thanks!

  • http://www.LOEL.com Eugene Lee

    jeff,

    I think you make an excellent point. Absolutely, corporations DO have the financial resources to harass competitors or enemies with baseless litigation. For instance, the example you cite, CMG, calls to mind a category of litigants, called “patent trolls”, who file patents then sue huge companies for supposed patent infringement. I guess I was thinking more about individual litigants. But your point is fair! Thanks!

  • http://www.weidmannlaw.com/ Weidmann Law

    Thank you for the referral link.

  • http://www.weidmannlaw.com/ Weidmann Law

    Thank you for the referral link.

  • charles

    i would simply add, what your comment implies: that a plaintiff who wants to bring a questionable lawsuit would not be able to retain an attorney to take the case on a contingency basis and would have to pay his/her attorney hourly fees (on a current basis), likely to equal or exceed the $10,000 hard costs.

  • charles

    i would simply add, what your comment implies: that a plaintiff who wants to bring a questionable lawsuit would not be able to retain an attorney to take the case on a contingency basis and would have to pay his/her attorney hourly fees (on a current basis), likely to equal or exceed the $10,000 hard costs.

  • http://www.sanantonioemploymentlawblog.com Tom Crane

    “frivolous” lawsuits do exist, but generally not in the employment area. As Gene points out, they are too expensive and risky to file without a strong factual basis. BUT, some lawyers do “dabble” in employment law and file suits that are more based on lack of fairness than on actual violation of some law.

    More common IMO are frivolous defenses. Defense attorneys routinely lodge pointless defenses that cannot possibly pertain to a particular lawsuit. Some defense attorneys not all, but some then will file weak or frivolous motions for summary judgment.

    • Eagle

      I doubt a significant number of attorneys file suits regarding lack of fairness without some actual violation of law. You speak of fairness in a way that suggests it has no legal basis. The core of Title VII is about fairness regardless of immutable qualities that one cannot change. 

      We all know how the interpretation of law is seldom construed in favor of minorities due to the cognitive dissonance people experience in accepting discrimination occurs unless it is egregious. 

      This failure to appreciate subtlety is a direct result of a lack of diversity in the bar and the failure to appreciate standing in someone else’s shoes without exposure to intricacies of being treated differently based on biases. 

  • http://www.sanantonioemploymentlawblog.com Tom Crane

    “frivolous” lawsuits do exist, but generally not in the employment area. As Gene points out, they are too expensive and risky to file without a strong factual basis. BUT, some lawyers do “dabble” in employment law and file suits that are more based on lack of fairness than on actual violation of some law.

    More common IMO are frivolous defenses. Defense attorneys routinely lodge pointless defenses that cannot possibly pertain to a particular lawsuit. Some defense attorneys not all, but some then will file weak or frivolous motions for summary judgment.

  • http://www.sanantonioemploymentlawblog.com Tom Crane

    “frivolous” lawsuits do exist, but generally not in the employment area. As Gene points out, they are too expensive and risky to file without a strong factual basis. BUT, some lawyers do “dabble” in employment law and file suits that are more based on lack of fairness than on actual violation of some law.

    More common IMO are frivolous defenses. Defense attorneys routinely lodge pointless defenses that cannot possibly pertain to a particular lawsuit. Some defense attorneys not all, but some then will file weak or frivolous motions for summary judgment.

  • http://www.LOEL.com Eugene Lee

    Tom, I couldn’t agree more. I had a case where the defendant filed 37 affirmative defenses. Just before trial, all but 1 defense was dismissed. All the time spent by the parties trying to prove/disprove the 36 other defenses was wasted. Maybe you and I should start a website devoted to frivolous defenses.

  • http://www.LOEL.com Eugene Lee

    Tom, I couldn’t agree more. I had a case where the defendant filed 37 affirmative defenses. Just before trial, all but 1 defense was dismissed. All the time spent by the parties trying to prove/disprove the 36 other defenses was wasted. Maybe you and I should start a website devoted to frivolous defenses.

  • http://www.LOEL.com Eugene Lee

    Tom, I couldn’t agree more. I had a case where the defendant filed 37 affirmative defenses. Just before trial, all but 1 defense was dismissed. All the time spent by the parties trying to prove/disprove the 36 other defenses was wasted. Maybe you and I should start a website devoted to frivolous defenses.

  • Pingback: San Antonio Employment Law Blog

  • Anonymous

    frivolity is from (a) plaintiffs using litigation costs to extract a settlement that is less than the cost of the litigation, (b) defendants raising every possible defense and delay rather than admit liability, and (c) attorneys in cahoots with plaintiffs controlling an organization, who authorize sham litigation for the purpose of a kickback, and stick the organization with the costs. Real estate lawyers seem deficient in ethics, they pride themselves on abusing procedure to win a case. Sigh.

  • foolsa

    Is it a “frivolous”lawsuit when your boss takes you in his car along with another employee and chews you out for over 1/2 hour while in his car and then takes us to lunch where he continues in front of my co-worker to belittle me and put me down? Is it when a boss calls you Judicans enstead of my name Judy? Is it when your boss hits you in the ass with his papers when I was in his office?.

    • Christopher Taylor

      More information is necessary. What you stated so far is legal but for, potentially, hitting you with the papers. If this is tinged with sexual intent, and it’s not a stretch to claim such an inappropriate act, then it can be the basis for a sexual harrassment case. If you can prove sexually-laced behavior is severe or is regular and ongoing, then you may have a reasonable claim. The Court may not view one physical touching, especially as described here, as creating a hostile work environment. You are invited to search for more on this topic at my twitter link @lawsatwork.

  • Guest

    If someone stated online that I filed false police reports and I was never charged with that crime, is it libel? If they stated that I came on line and “lied” allowing someone so that person could cover their tracks and steal, is that libel? And, if they lied about my relationship with another organization saying they asked me to leave, but, I left because of inappropriate practices of which I reported to the police before the police even began investigating the organization, is that libel? If they call me names to others and tells others I lie, one of the others being the editor of a local newspaper via their facebook site, is that considered libel?
    Thank you,