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Recoverability of Expert Witness Fees in Federal Court

Many litigants are unaware that testifying expert costs are not automatically recoverable in federal court like they are in state court.   Expert witness fees / costs are not an automatic taxable costs.   28 U.S.C. s. 1920 discusses taxable costs. 28 U.S.C. s. 1821 discusses a witness’ per diem costs of $40/day for each day’s attendance. See 28 U.S.C. 1821(2)(b) (“A witness shall be paid an attendance fee of $40 per day for each day’s attendance. A witness shall also be paid the attendance fee for the time necessarily occupied in going to and returning from the place of attendance at the beginning and end of such attendance or at any time during such attendance.”).

The Eleventh Circuit in Primo v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Ins. Co. , 2016 WL 5436821, *5 (11th Cir. 2016) explained that, “[u]nder 28 U.S.C. § 1821(b), [a] witness shall be paid an attendance fee of $40 per day for each day’s attendance. The Supreme Court has held that when a prevailing party seeks reimbursement for fees paid to its own expert witness, a federal court is bound by the limit of § 1821(b), absent contract or explicit statutory authority to the contrary.” (internal quotations omitted).

In order to recover more than the standard per diem witness fee, either the contract needs to authorize expert witness fees or a specific federal statute needs to authorize the recovery of testifying expert costs. See Troche v. City of Orlando, 2015 WL 631280 (M.D.Fla. 2015) (“[A]bsent explicit statutory or contractual authorization for the taxation of the expenses of a litigant’s [expert] witness as costs, federal courts are bound by the limitations set out in 28 U.S.C. § 1821 and § 1920. Section 1920 does not provide for costs for experts unless they were court-appointed.”) (internal quotations omitted).

When drafting a prevailing party attorney’s fees provision in a contract, I always like to include that the prevailing party is entitled to recover their testifying expert witness fees.  This way if the lawsuit is filed in federal court there is a contractual basis to recover expert witness fees. 


Please contact David Adelstein at or (954) 361-4720 if you have questions or would like more information regarding this article. You can follow David Adelstein on Twitter @DavidAdelstein1.

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