• June 19, 2014
Photo by Jonathan Rotondo-McCord

Photo by Jonathan Rotondo-McCord

Sometimes people come to lawyers hoping and planning to bring a lawsuit and adopting the attitude that the worst thing that can happen is recovering no relief (whether money is sought or some other relief). People who hire lawyers who take the cases on for a contingent fee, in particular, might labor under the misunderstanding that their risk = zero. “It’s all upside!”

Think again.

The most glaring oversight of some civil litigants (and, unfortunately, some poor civil litigators) is the threat of counterclaim. An employee may seek her unpaid commissions, only to find out that bringing the lawsuit triggers the employer to bring her own claims. Think of this as kicking the proverbial sleeping dragon.

Another risk are sanctions. If the courts determine your claims are not just losing claims but they are “unwarranted by existing law and unsupported by any argument to modify or reverse existing law,” you face “downside” peril.

Plaintiff Sandra Balbach, represented by Margaret Koberoski, might have thought, “No harm in asking,” in her effort to seek a judicial determination that Irving township abandoned a lake-access road located between two lots Balbach owns and that she should be deemed the owner of that property.

Unfortunately for Ms. Balbach, however, the township moved for summary judgment, for $500 in sanctions, and for $23,000 in attorney fees.

Balbach asked the district court to continue the summary-judgment motion until discovery was completed. The district court granted the township’s motions, holding that Balbach has no title or ownership interest in the road, and awarding the township a total of $17,726.50 in attorney fees and costs and disbursements.

The Minnesota Court of Appeals affirmed the district court.

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