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Prevailing Party, Breach of Contract Attorney Fees

Parties are usually responsible for their own attorneys fees, unless a contract or statute provides otherwise. A common clause in contracts will provide that the “prevailing party” in any dispute pertaining to the contract, including a breach of contract action, will, in addition to its contractual expectancy damages, be entitled to recover their reasonable attorney fees and costs. When a contract provides for payment of attorney fees and costs expended to enforce a contract, a trial court is required to award such fees and consts to the prevailing party. Schnucks Carrollton Corp. v. Bridgeton Health & Fitness, Inc., 884 S.W.2d 733, 739 (Mo. Ct. App. 1994).

Often times the contract will not define the  “prevailing party.” If there is no express definition, Missouri courts have defined a “prevailing party” for purposes of a contractual award as a party prevailing on the main issue in dispute, even though not necessarily to the extent of its original contention. Ken Cucchi Const., Inc. v. O’Keefe, 973 S.W.2d 520, 528 (Mo. Ct. App. 1998).

Costs are relatively straightforward. The measure and amount of attorney fees, however, must usually be approved by the Court. A trial court is given “considerable discretion” in awarding attorney fees and an award of attorney fees on appeal will only be overturned upon if it is an abuse of discretion. Aurich v. Aurich, 110 S.W.3d 907, 916 (Mo. Ct. App. 2003). An abuse of discretion is a decision that is “against the logic of the circumstances and so arbitrary and unreasonable as to shock one’s sense of justice.” Id. In other words, it is extraordinarily rare to see an appellate court overturn a trial court’s calculation of attorney fees.

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