Steps in a Lawsuit: Costs and Cost Assessments

Once a lawsuit has settled or been decided after a trial, the parties must still deal with the matter of court costs. Known simply as “costs”, these are an amount of money meant to compensate a party for the time and expense of having to participate in a Supreme Court case. When a party has a lawyer, costs help offset the party’s legal fees. Generally, only the party who is successful is entitled to costs, which are payable by the unsuccessful party. A party does not have to win at trial to be successful. If a case settles before trial and involves the payment of money from the defendant to the plaintiff, the plaintiff is still entitled to costs. Conversely, if a plaintiff discontinues a lawsuit against a defendant, the defendant would be entitled to costs. The amount a successful party will receive for costs depends on the stage of the litigation at which the case resolves and the difficulty of the case. For each step in the litigation, the Supreme Court Civil Rules provides a range of units that the successful party can claim. The more time spent or work done on a particular step, the more units the party can rightfully claim. Those units are then multiplied by one of three set dollar amounts. The more difficult the case, the higher dollar amount the party can attempt to claim. The product of this equation is the amount of money the party will receive as costs for that particular step. For example, if a party claims 5 units for exchanging documents at a rate of $110 per unit, the party could be entitled to $550 + tax for the time and expense of having to exchange documents. If the parties cannot agree to the amount of costs payable, they can apply to a Registrar of the Court to assess the amount of costs the successful party should receive. It should be noted that there are a number of rules relating to a party’s entitlement to costs, the amount, and when they are to be paid.

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