By: Keith Manning Rivenbark

Almost every client will ask the same question at the start of any litigation, “can I recover attorney fees?” The choice to pursue litigation may hinge upon how much a client may recover and how much it will cost them in attorneys’ fees to get that recovery. Unfortunately, the long-standing rule in North Carolina is that, unless a statute provides otherwise, the parties to litigation are responsible for their respective attorney’s fees.

Outside of family-law issues, there are only twenty-five (25) statutes in North Carolina that give the Court the authority to award attorney’s fees. Even more, in these 25 scenarios, it is within the Judge’s sole discretion whether to award the prevailing side the cost of their attorney’s fees.

The following are common exceptions in which attorney’s fees may be recovered:

  •  Certain Personal Injury and Property Damage Claims with Less than $25,000 in Damages (N.C. Gen. Stat. § 6-21.1)
  • Reciprocal Attorneys’ Fee Provision in Business Contracts (N.C. Gen. Stat. 6-21.6)
  •  Applies to Certain Loan and Finance Agreements (N.C. Gen. Stat. 6-21.2)
  •  NC Unfair and Deceptive Trade Practices Act (N.C. Gen. Stat. § 75-16.1)
  •  Violations of North Carolina Condominium Act (N.C. Gen. Stat. § 47C-4-117)
  •  Actions Appealing or Defending against State Agency Action (N.C. Gen. Stat. § 6-19.1)

Although attorney’s fees are rarely awarded, it is worth remembering the limited circumstances in which a court may award them. The list of statutes above is intended to cover the statutory grounds for attorney’s fees that are most commonly applied. It is not an exhaustive list.