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WHO IS THE PREVAILING PARTY FOR PURPOSES OF A FEE AWARD?

Often times in a Florida contract action, if the plaintiff prevails at trial he is entitled to an award of attorney’s fees and costs. This is the case in Florida insurance cases where the plaintiff has filed a law suit based upon the insurance company’s breach of the insurance policy, or their refusal to extend insurance coverage.

In a recent case from the Fourth District Court of Appeal, the appellate court reviewed a contract action, where the jury found a breach of contract but awarded no damages. As a result of the jury awarding no damages the trial court found that the plaintiff was the prevailing party for purposes of awarding costs but not for purposes of awarding fees. See Khodam v. Escondido Homeowner’s Assoc., Inc., So.3d, 37 FLW D928 (Fla. 4th DCA 4-18-2012).

In reviewing the trial court’s decision, the Fourth District Court of Appeal held that in a breach of contract action one party must prevail, and the finding that the defendant breached the contract made the plaintiff the prevailing party for an award of both costs and fees. Thus under the appellate court’s analysis, a plaintiff who wins a decision on the breach of contract does not necessarily have to be awarded damages in order for them to be considered the prevailing party. Once a breach of contract is found, the plaintiff is then considered the prevailing party and thus entitled to an award of both costs and fees.

This ruling will have a sweeping impact on breach of contract actions including those related to insurance claims. In the event you have a question regarding an insurance dispute please contact Robert Sparks Attorneys for a free case evaluation.

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