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In a breach of contract lawsuit in Idaho, does the losing party have to pay the winning party’s attorney fees?

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By Joseph G. Ballstaedt

Before hiring an attorney to file or defend a breach of contract lawsuit in Idaho, you should consider attorney fees, especially if the contract is relatively small. Although each case is different, the losing party generally has to pay attorney fees in a breach of contract claim. Many contracts specifically state that if a party breaks the contract, he or she has to pay the other party’s attorney fees and costs in any legal suit to enforce the contract.

Moreover, even if the contract is silent on attorney fees or the contract was oral, Idaho law explains that the losing party has to pay the winning party’s fees in many contract disputes: “In any civil action to recover on . . . [a] contract relating to the purchase or sale of goods . . . or services . . . , the prevailing party shall be allowed a reasonable attorney’s fee to be set by the court, to be taxed and collected as costs.” Idaho Code § 12-120(3).

This statute, however, is not an absolute guarantee to the winning party in a contract dispute. First, the statute only applies to certain contracts. Even if the statute applies, sometimes determining which party is the “prevailing party” (a legal term for the winning party) can be a little more complex than one might think. Also, in certain circumstances, the prevailing party cannot be awarded fees unless he or she followed certain steps before filing a lawsuit. Additionally, courts have discretion to reduce the prevailing party’s fees to what they feel is “reasonable” given the circumstances. Even if the court awards attorney fees, actually collecting those fees is an entirely different matter. The losing party may be insolvent, for example.

If you have questions about the risks of litigation and how attorney fees may play into a breach of contract or other claim in Idaho, contact one of our civil and commercial litigation lawyers at Racine Olson to discuss your problem. We can help solve it.