Bearden v. McGill (Majority, Concurrence and Dissent)Annotate this Case
Plaintiff James Bearden sued Dolphus McGill after they were involved in a car accident. They went to mandatory arbitration, and the arbitrator awarded plaintiff Bearden $44,000.00 in damages. Bearden moved for statutory costs under RCW 4.84.010 as the prevailing party. The arbitrator, consistent with MAR 6.4(d), filed an amended award granting the fee request. The amended award granted $1,187.00 in costs to the plaintiff, amounting to a total award of $45,187.00. Defendant McGill requested a trial de novo. At trial, the jury awarded Bearden $42,500.00 in damages and $3,296.39 in RCW 4.84.010 costs for a total award of $45,796.39. Bearden moved for attorney fees under MAR 7.3, arguing that McGill had not improved his position at trial because the trial award of $45,796.39 exceeded the arbitral award of $45,187.00. The trial judge agreed and awarded Bearden $71,800.00 in attorney fees and costs incurred as a result of the trial. McGill appealed, arguing that the trial court erred by including trial costs in the MAR 7.3 comparison. The Court of Appeals vacated the award of attorney fees and costs to Bearden, holding that the proper comparison was between the common elements of the awards in both proceedings, including only "those costs and fees litigated before both the arbitrator and trial court." The Washington Supreme Court reaffirmed that the determination of whether a requesting party's position was improved should follow the reasoning of an ordinary person. Accordingly, the Court held that statutory costs should be included. The Court of Appeals was therefore reversed.