Archive for the ‘Plaintiff’s Issues’ Category

Affording a Lawyer in Small Dollar Amount Civil Claims

Monday, December 10th, 2012

Many people find themselves in need of an attorney in pursuing small claims. Not all disputes can involved six or seven figures, right? In fact, most claims for personal injury or property damages are at the lower end of the spectrum (under $10,000). As a plaintiff, it can be difficult to justify the expense of hiring an attorney to pursue a small claim.

In Oregon there is a strong incentive for attorneys to take on and aggressively litigate small dollar amount claims. A pair of important Oregon laws provide for mandatory attorney fees to a victorious plaintiff in personal injury, property damage, and breach of contract cases when certain conditions are met. In a nutshell, the laws provide mandatory attorney fees when the plaintiff recovers more than the defendant’s offer to settle the case.

ORS 20.080 applies to actions for personal injury and property damage, while ORS 20.082 applies to breaches of contract. There are important limitations to the laws. First, the laws are limited to cases involving a dollar amount of $10,000 or less. Second, the defendant’s response is very important.¬† The laws require the defendant to pay the plaintiff’s attorney’s fees only if the plaintiff recovers more than the defendant’s counteroffer after an arbitration or trial. If the plaintiff does not, then each party bears the responsibility of attorney fees. These laws are swords as well as shields, as a defendant may make a counterclaim on the plaintiff and potentially recover their own attorney’s fees.

It is important to consult with an attorney if you have questions regarding¬† a small claim. I have litigated small claims covered by ORS 20.080 and recovered attorney’s fees up to 3x the amount of damages. These laws give plaintiffs a strong upper hand in obtaining a fair and just recovery for their injuries or damages.