Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Bill of Costs Definition:

A formal itemized memorandum presented by the successful party to concluded litigation, to the other, as a proposal of costs and disbursements that the issuing party claims.

Related Terms: Costs, Taxation of Costs

When one party is successful in litigation and given costs by the court, the first step is to present an itemized proposal of costs to the other side. Sometimes this is negotiated by way of a simple all-in amount of money, a quick and dirty lump sum settlement of costs. Of course, this has the advantage of resolving future costs, as it prevents more litigation .... this time, on the amount of costs which are due.

In most case, a battle for costs for the successful lawyer means more hourly wages so the motivation to settle costs on a lump sum basis is rarely found. Since clients don't understand the mechanics of a bill of costs, there is no other reason why in so many cases a non-starter bill of costs is published by the successful lawyer. In the result, experienced and responsible lawyers cannot agree on a lump sum settlement on costs and exacerbate the total legal fees all-around by a further battle on costs.

In any event, where the issue is proceeding formally, an itemized list is presented to the other side, itemizing the claim for costs and disbursements, with reference, as the case may be, to relevant scales or tables which may courts have for litigants to calculate costs.

Sometimes these tables or scales are divided into classes based on level of complexities.

In the formal process, if a bill of costs is not accepted  by the losing party, the party who is entitled to his or her costs must have the bill of costs reviewed by an administrative judge, often called a magistrate, a registrar or a master.

That adjudicated review process is called taxation of costs, for which the contested bill of costs serves as the core document.


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