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I have been menaced to be brought to court in a case where the other part has largely more resources than I do. I am not worried about the veracity of the claims, but I am worried about being dragged to a long litigation I might not be able to afford with my personal funds.

Is there a way to know in advance in which circumstances I would be eligible for compensation to cover my defense expenses?

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    The answers below can provide some insight, but more specifics about the nature of the case would make it easier to figure out a more accurate answer. This is an area with many exceptions. – ohwilleke Jun 23 at 1:08
  • I understand it is not a one line answer @ohwilleke. My ignorance on the field prevents this to be a more grounded discussion. However a first intuition like the one provided in your answers below serves the purpose I believe. – A. Frenzy Jun 27 at 20:22
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Whether one can recover attorneys fees after litigation in California depends upon the nature of the case. Their amount may be affected by the nature of the judgment.

The general rule is each party is responsible for that party's attorney's fees. That means that the trial result is irrelevant - no matter what happens, one pays for one's own attorneys fees.

There are, however, some exceptions:

  • First: if the parties are litigating a contract, the contract text itself may provide that the prevailing party can recover attorneys fees from the non-prevailing party. Such "Attorneys' Fees Clauses" are common. The prevailing party may have to file a motion in the trial court for the judge to add attorneys fees to the judgment amount; the judge will also be responsible (in ruling on the motion) to determine the amount of attorneys fees.

  • Second: specific state statutes may allow the prevailing party to recover "Statutory attorneys fees." This is completely dependent on whether the case at issue fits the various statutory definitions. For example, the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act (the California "Lemon Law") provides for the recovery of attorneys fees by an aggrieved consumer. There are multiple other examples throughout the California Codes.

  • Third: @ohwilleke (to whom thanks) added a comment below that includes other exceptions to the general rule. The comment text was: There are a few other exceptions, e.g. breaches of fiduciary duties involving trust finds, bad faith breaches of insurance contracts, etc. Also, it is possible for attorneys' fees awards to be made because litigation or some specific conduct in litigation is either groundless and frivolous, or violates a court rule. Further, a prevailing party generally gets court costs (e.g. filing fees, expert witness fees, copying costs, and other out of pocket expenses other than attorneys' fees) even when attorneys' fees are not awarded. Most are modest, but not expert witness fees.

If the case at issue does not fall within an exception, the general rule — each party is responsible for their own attorneys fees — applies.

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    There are a few other exceptions, e.g. breaches of fiduciary duties involving trust finds, bad faith breaches of insurance contracts, etc. Also, it is possible for attorneys' fees awards to be made because litigation or some specific conduct in litigation is either groundless and frivolous, or violates a court rule. Further, a prevailing party generally gets court costs (e.g. filing fees, expert witness fees, copying costs, and other out of pocket expenses other than attorneys' fees) even when attorneys' fees are not awarded. Most are modest, but not expert witness fees. – ohwilleke Jun 23 at 1:02
  • @ohwilleke All true, thanks for the expansion. I've added a third bullet to incorporate your info. – DavidSupportsMonica Jun 23 at 2:55
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    There are also sanctions in some statutes that award attorney fees before any party prevails in the litigation. For example, California Family Code § 271 (sanction against a party which frustrates the policy of the law to promote settlement), Code of Civil Procedure § 2023.010 et seq. (sanction against misusing or disobeying discovery process). They could be relevant to original poster's case if the adverse party "drags on" the litigation, but it really depends on what type of case it is. – aaronqli Jun 24 at 6:03
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It really depends on the type of the case, and what exactly you anticipate the adverse party would do to "drag" you into a long litigation. It also depends on the litigation style of the adverse party. Generally, the court has a fair amount of discretion over award of attorney fees and court costs. It's best to talk to a lawyer and get some context-specific feedback on the best and worst scenarios. Also, keep in mind that few cases eventually go to trial. Based on your question, it seems the case hasn't even started yet. You might be overthinking too much.

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  • This answer is inaccurate; while the type of case is indeed relevant to whether an award of attorneys fees is made, the rest of this answer does not answer the original question. Downvoted. – DavidSupportsMonica Jun 22 at 21:23
  • I actually agree. Your answer is better. – aaronqli Jun 24 at 5:51

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