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How Much Does It Cost to Sue Someone?

Last Updated on March 16, 2024
Written by CPA Alec Pow | Content Reviewed by Certified CFA CFA Alexander Popinker

Suing another person or entity in civil court can be an expensive undertaking, with the costs quickly adding up depending on the complexity of your case.

This article breaks down the typical expenses to expect when suing someone, including legal fees, court costs, litigation expenses, and more. We’ll also look at strategies for managing these costs and minimizing the financial impact of civil litigation.

How Much Does It Cost to Sue Someone?

The largest portion of the overall cost of suing someone goes toward legal fees. Attorney fee structures vary, with hourly billing, flat fees, and contingency fee arrangements as the most common options.

Hourly rates for lawyers typically range from $100-$500+ per hour depending on experience, location, and practice area. At the higher end, big law firm partners bill $1,000 or more per hour.

On average, the legal fees to take a case to trial start around $10,000-$20,000 for simpler cases but can exceed $100,000 for complex civil litigation. The length of the case and the amount of preparation needed significantly impact total legal costs.

Suing another party could cost anywhere from a few thousand dollars for a small claims court matter to millions in complex class action lawsuits.

The average cost of a defamation lawsuit at Minc Law, for example, ranges from $15,000 to $25,000.

Bytescare notes that the average cost of a copyright infringement lawsuit can range from tens of thousands to several hundred thousand dollars, with attorney fees ranging from $200 to $800 per hour, depending on various factors.

Court and Filing Fees

Every lawsuit triggers court costs and filing fees payable to the court system. The specific amount varies widely by state and jurisdiction, but generally falls in the $100-$500 range.

For higher value lawsuits in federal court, filing fees run from $350-$400 just to initiate the case. Other court-related expenses include charges for serving legal documents, court reporters, photocopies, and court transcripts.

Expenses Beyond Attorney and Court Fees

Additional lawsuit costs pile on from discovery expenses, expert witness fees, mediation, and more.

For example, retaining expert witnesses like doctors, accountants, or engineers to provide testimony can cost anywhere from $150-$500 per hour, with total fees ranging $1,500-$25,000+ per expert.

Depositions also rack up thousands in court reporter fees and video recording costs.

Costs in Different Courts

Small claims court provides a lower cost alternative for resolving minor civil disputes. Filing fees run just $10-$100 in most states, and attorneys are generally prohibited. However, small claims courts only hear cases up to around $5,000-$15,000 in value, limiting their applicability.

State courts adjudicate mid-size civil lawsuits with filing fees in the hundreds of dollars.

For large and complex federal cases, filing fees alone approach $500 or more just to initiate.

Managing Legal Expenses

Some options exist to minimize the costs of suing someone. Legal aid societies provide free legal services to low income individuals in certain cases.

Many law school clinics offer pro bono assistance on civil matters.

Basic legal consultation from an attorney often costs just $100-$250, helping assess if filing suit makes financial sense.

Legal expense insurance and lawsuit funding provide other alternatives to pay costs.

Cost to Sue in Small Claims Court

Small claims court provides a lower cost forum for resolving minor civil disputes under a certain dollar value, typically $5,000-$15,000 depending on the state. Filing fees for small claims cases run just $10-$100 in most states.

You might also like our articles on the cost to hire a Consumer Protection Lawyer, Criminal Defense Lawyer, or Child Support Lawyer.

Attorneys are generally prohibited in small claims proceedings, saving on legal fees. The simplified process and lack of juries or appeals also minimize costs compared to higher courts.

However, recoverable damages are capped at the small claims jurisdictional limit, requiring filing in state or federal court for larger suits. For qualifying minor disputes, small claims presents an affordable option vs. a full-fledged lawsuit.

Cost to Sue for Personal Injury or Wrongful Death

Suing for common torts like personal injury lawsuits or wrongful death cases often incurs higher litigation costs. Extensive legal investigation, securing medical and expert testimony, reconstructing evidence, and proving liability drive fees higher.

Contingency fee arrangements with attorneys are typical, but mean paying 30-40% of any settlement or award. Costs add up from depositions, subpoenas, evidence storage and handling, and technical experts.

If pushed to trial, the overall costs of a personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit often exceed $100,000. But contingency-based legal fees provide an alternative to hourly billing in these types of cases involving significant financial damages.

Cost to Sue Someone in Civil Court

In Court GavelSuing in state or federal civil court allows pursuing larger damage amounts, but entails higher legal costs. Attorney hourly fees, filing charges, and litigation expenses all escalate for courtroom-based proceedings.

Filing fees alone run $200-$500 or more just to initiate a state or federal civil case. Contingency fee arrangements are less common, so hourly legal billings prevail. Total costs through trial often run $50,000-$300,000+ when you add attorney hourly costs and retainer fees.

While necessary for high dollar disputes, the price tag of civil litigation deters filing small or frivolous claims. But state and federal courts ultimately provide the highest level of legal remedy when out-of-court resolution fails.

Conclusion

Suing someone entails substantial costs that must be carefully weighed before moving forward. Legal fees, court filing expenses, discovery costs, expert witnesses, and other litigation expenses can quickly exceed tens of thousands of dollars or more.

Analyzing your specific case and budgeting for these costs is essential. Small claims court provides a lower cost forum for minor disputes, while legal aid or pro bono services assist those unable to afford fees.

With thorough planning and consultation with legal counsel, the costs of suing can be effectively managed. But undertaking a lawsuit remains a significant financial decision in all but the smallest matters.

Frequently Asked Questions

What happens if you sue someone with no money USA?

If you sue someone with no money in the USA, it can be very difficult to collect even if you win the case. If the defendant has few assets or is bankrupt, they likely don’t have the means to pay a judgment against them. Having an uncollectible judgment can create problems for the plaintiff as well, as it will be reported on their credit but remain unpaid. Some options in this situation include:

  • Negotiating a payment plan, if the defendant can afford small payments over time
  • Garnishing the defendant’s wages, if allowed in your state
  • Placing a lien on any property or assets the defendant has or may acquire in the future
  • Checking if the defendant has any insurance policies that could pay the judgment
  • Forgoing the lawsuit if it appears uncollectible, and writing it off as a loss

Suing someone with no money ultimately may not be worth the time, costs, and effort unless absolutely necessary or on principle. Consulting with an attorney beforehand can avoid the frustrations of an uncollectible judgment.

Can I sue an American?

Yes, it is possible for a foreign citizen or entity to sue an American citizen or company in the United States civil court system. The U.S. has fairly open courts, with some key considerations:

  • Personal jurisdiction – The American must have sufficient contacts with the state where you file suit.
  • Subject matter jurisdiction – Federal courts can hear cases between a foreign plaintiff and U.S. defendant.
  • Service of process – The right documents must be properly served on the defendant per U.S. rules.
  • Choice of law – U.S. or foreign law may apply, depending on the nature of the dispute.
  • Travel costs – The foreign plaintiff may need to travel to the U.S. for hearings and trial.
  • Enforcement – Collecting a U.S. judgment in a foreign country has additional requirements.
  • Legal fees – You will need a U.S. licensed attorney to represent you.

While allowing suits by foreign plaintiffs, the American legal system still provides advantages to U.S. defendants. Hiring experienced local counsel levels the playing field for foreigners seeking justice through U.S. courts.

Can you sue someone not in the US?

It is possible but challenging to sue someone located outside the United States. But the important considerations are the same as above, and a few more:

  • Differing laws – Foreign laws and judicial systems can differ significantly.
  • Language barriers – Parties must be able to understand each other’s documents and testimony.
  • Local counsel – Hiring lawyers qualified in the foreign country is usually necessary.

Due to these complications, suing non-U.S. defendants is complex and best avoided unless absolutely warranted. But with proper planning and counsel, it can be feasible in the right circumstances.

The key is understanding the unique requirements when bringing legal action across borders and jurisdictions.

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