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Prevailing Parties and Florida’s Rules for Awards of Attorneys’ Fees in Civil Litigation

You’re probably familiar with the old phrase “more than meets the eye.” A lot of commercial litigation cases can fit within that definition, which Merriam-Webster says is “more (to something) than there appears to be at first.” You may think your commercial dispute is just a straight-forward breach-of-contract matter but, upon closer inspection by a skilled South Florida commercial litigation attorney, there may be multiple ways you’ve been harmed, and multiple causes of action you can bring in court, ranging from contract claims to tort claims to statutory claims. All of this, of course, has the potential to require your diligent attorneys to spend many, many hours on your case, which could mean a large fee.

One way to curtail that cost is to win at trial and then to file the appropriate motion to obtain an order where the judge demands that the other side pay some or all of your attorneys’ fees. This can be very important for some businesses, giving them the ability to resist the temptation to walk away from a valid case simply due to cost concerns. On the flip side, losing an attorneys’ fees motion could be something that is extremely damaging if you’re on the wrong end of such an order. That’s why it is important to understand exactly what the law requires and how you can overcome an opponent’s request that you pay for its’ lawyers.

This was the case for one Coconut Grove-based company in court recently. It had been locked in a prolonged and complex construction lien case with a Mississippi-based construction firm. The action included multiple claims. In the end, the construction company won on some claims and lost on some. Nevertheless, it filed a motion for attorneys’ fees, arguing that it was the “prevailing” party and entitled to recoup fees.

(Winning an argument in court about the “prevailing” party of a case is very important because, if a party isn’t a prevailing one, it automatically isn’t entitled to recover attorneys’ fees on that basis.)

The trial judge sided with the construction company, but the appeals court ruled for the South Florida entity. Forcing the Coconut Grove company to pay any of the Mississippi company’s attorneys’ fees would be unfair because, although the Mississippi company won on some very significant issues, it also lost on some very significant issues, too.

In other words, the outcome of this case was essentially a draw and, when a contest ends in a draw, neither side is entitled to declare itself the “winner.” And that’s what the appeals court concluded here, ordering the trial court to declare neither company to be a prevailing party under the law, meaning that each side was responsible for paying their own lawyers, and the Coconut Grove company successfully avoided what could have been a very large added expense.

When you are faced with a breach-of-contract issue, whether you are the potential plaintiff or the defendant, the skilled South Florida commercial litigation attorneys at Stok Kon + Braverman are here to help. Our attorneys have been effectively helping clients advance and protect their business interests through litigation and other legal avenues for many years and are ready to talk to you about your needs.

Contact us online or by calling (954) 237-1777 to schedule your consultation and find out how this firm can help you.

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