Construction Contracts: Who is Prevailing Party?
Construction contracts and construction-related statutes generally provide the prevailing party with recovery of its incurred attorneys’ fees. However, the prevailing party, normally defined as the party who prevailed on the significant issues tried before the court, is not always easily determined, especially in a suit involving several claims or even counter-claims.
When a mechanic’s lien claimant obtains any amount of judgment, the claimant is the prevailing party for the purposes of the attorneys’ fees provision within Florida Statutes § 713.29 but a successful defendant may be able to obtain attorneys’ fees for successfully defending a mechanic’s lien claim.
It Could be the Contractor
A contractor may be the prevailing party if it does not recover pursuant to the mechanic’s lien, but nevertheless obtains judgment for damages pursuant to a contract or equity. Coined a “net judgment rule”, it allows contractors a recovery of attorneys’ fees pursuant to contractual or equitable principles but only if the contractor’s judgment is a net recovery. Moreover, a party may be the prevailing party entitled to mechanic’s lien statute attorneys’ fees, where the case is dismissed for lack of prosecution.
Further explaining the prevailing party attorneys’ fees, a Florida court recently awarded a contractor attorneys’ fees subsequent to his recovery of damages under his mechanic’s lien claim. Although the owner prevailed on his breach of contract claim, the contractor recovered a net judgment after all of the set-offs for construction defects. In conclusion, when a claimant in a mechanic’s lien action recovers a judgment in any amount, the trial court will generally find the claimant the prevailing party and award him attorneys’ fees pursuant to statute.