Court Costs in Civil Lawsuits

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Court costs are expenses charged to a party in a lawsuit. Court costs generally include:

  • Fees paid to the court clerk for filing the lawsuit
  • Charges for serving a summons or notice to the defendant (the person being sued)
  • Charges for serving subpoenas on witnesses
  • Jury fees
  • Mileage costs for jurors and witnesses
  • The cost of court transcripts
  • The cost for copying papers and exhibits

Generally, witness fees are taxable as costs if the witness's testimony helped the winning party's case. Expert witness fees paid by a party are not recoverable as costs unless authorized by law.

Recoverable Expenses

The legislature has the power to decide what items of expense a party in a lawsuit can recover as costs. However, if the legislature does not specify which expenses can be recovered, the judge will decide what expenses are allowed as costs. The judge's decision will not be overturned on appeal unless an abuse of discretion is shown. The judge usually orders the losing party to pay the court costs in order to reimburse the winning party for expenses incurred in prosecuting or defending the lawsuit. In some states, if the plaintiff (the person suing) makes an offer to settle a claim before a lawsuit is filed, and the defendant (the person being sued) rejects it, the plaintiff is entitled to some additional costs as the winning party, such as pre-judgment interest, if the plaintiff recovers more than he or she would have under the settlement offer. However, where the plaintiff refuses the defendant's offer of settlement before suit, the plaintiff can recover court costs only if the amount of the judgment is greater than the amount offered by the defendant.

Attorney Fees

Attorney fees are not included in court costs. In the United States, the losing party is not required to pay the winning party's attorney fees unless a law provides for an award of attorney fees in the lawsuit. For example, many consumer protection and environmental laws provide that a winning plaintiff can recover his or her attorney fees.

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