legal costs awards in WI and MN

Does the loser of a civil action in WI on MN usually pay part or all of the legal costs of the winner?

IANAL etc. In WI it depends on the verdict, The judge or jury decides liability and assigns damages. It’s standard in WI to include in one’s filings a request for all damages one is seeking without a specific dollar amount, along with “statutory costs and such further relief as may be appropriate.” Additionally, a party may file a motion seeking to have an action of another party declared frivolous and request to be paid for the costs of dealing with that action. A frivolous action is one which has no reasonable basis in law or equity or one for which the party has no reasonable belief has a reasonable basis of success on the basis of a reversal of existing law or equity. Speaking from my own (small claims) case, I sued two plaintiffs jointly and severally. I was awarded damages against one but no costs or fees. The other defendant counter-claimed me and was awarded statutory attorney fees plus some costs. There are caps on statutory fees in WI which if you’re thirsting for the knowledge I can dig up.

Let’s assume that the legal fees on each side are in the firty to one-hundred thousand range, and that the claim and the defence were both reasonable and properly conducted. One side wins, the other loses; does the loser pay all or part of the winner’s legal bill.

Here is everything you could ever want to know about costs and fees in Wisconsin. Remember also that attorneys are probably going to get a portion of any money damages awarded to a successful claimant.

Oh, and upon re-reading your second post it occurs to me that you’re asking whether WI and MN have instituted the “loser pays” tort reform that sometimes gets touted as a way of reducing “frivolous” lawsuits. Wisconsin hasn’t; I don’t believe that Minnesota or any other state has either but someone more knowledgable about MN law than I may be better able to answer that.

I don’t practice in WI or MN, but I believe that the legal rules are generally the same in all US states.

The winner of a case is usually awarded “costs.” These vary by state and court, but they usually encompass court costs like filing fees and the like, expenses of service, some other limited classes of expenses, and perhaps some small statutory amounts. These amounts are usually trivial compared to the legal fees and expenses incurred in prosecuting or defending a case.

Under some circumstances, the winner may be awarded attorney’s fees and expenses. This generally occurs only when the parties have agreed to this by contract, or when fee shifting is authorized under a specific statutory law. A common fee shifting statute is the one providing that the winner in federal civil rights cases is be entitled to attorney’s fees (with some exceptions).

There are also rules applicable in the federal courts and most state courts that if a legal paper is “frivolous” the court may award sanctions against the party that presented the frivolous paper, often in the amount of the legal fees incurred in responding to the frivolus paper. Frivolous in this context is usually defined as being either (i) not supported under existing law or a non-frivolous argument for the modification or reversal of existing law, (ii) not having any evidentiary support (or presented without a good faith basis to believe that after investigation they will have evidentiary support), or (iii) presented for an improper purpose such as harrassment or unnecessary delay. (See Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 11).

Agree with Billdo. To expand on two of his points: The fee shifting situations he mentions (contract, statute) that would apply even if the loser’s actions were reasonable and non-frivolous don’t come into play in most cases. Also, a finding that a litigant acted frivolously is rare (too rare, in my opinion) in the state court systems that I’m familiar with. Federal judges are a little quicker on the sanctions trigger.