What is Eminent Domain Litigation?

When the NCDOT or any condemning authority files with the Court to take your land, you’re being sued. What happens next? What are your options? We’ve got the answers.

How Does NC Eminent Domain Litigation Work? Answers to Common Questions

As a property owner facing an eminent domain taking, the idea of litigation may seem frightening. The prospect of courtroom drama scares a lot of people, but that’s not the reality. Most cases never actually make it to the courtroom. Before you give in to the government or NCDOT, you should understand the process of eminent domain litigation and what you stand to gain if you’re successful.

What is litigation?

Litigation is the act or process of settling a dispute in court, though it doesn’t necessarily have to physically be in court. Many cases in litigation are settled without ever stepping foot in the courtroom.

Settlements can happen for many reasons. Generally, they occur when one side has strong evidence to support its case, and the other side sees that going to court is likely to render a decision against them – or worse, award even more to the opposition than they are requesting.

In eminent domain, the plaintiff in litigation is usually the condemning authority – the NCDOT for example, but it could also be a city, municipality, county, utility, or other organization granted the authority of eminent domain. You, as the property owner, are the defendant.

Am I really being sued in an eminent domain case?

At the beginning, no. The NCDOT or condemning authority will make you an offer. If you accept that offer, there is no case. You get the money and they take your land. The problem is that, often the initial offer is less, sometimes much less, than the actual fair value of the land being taken.

If you think their offer is unfair – and in our experience it often is – you can refuse to accept it.

At that point, the NCDOT or condemning authority files its condemnation lawsuit with the Court to take your property. You are being sued, and therefore you are technically in civil litigation. The condemning authority is the plaintiff, and you are the defendant. However, this is just a function of law and shouldn’t scare you.

When the taking is filed with the Court and the NCDOT (for example) deposits the funds of their initial offer (the one you refused), they technically own whatever part of your property they’re taking. They can begin working on it immediately! You have the option to fight for more money if you file a motion to do so, which an attorney can do for you.

Additionally, we can show you how you can take that initial offer (withdraw the deposited funds) without accepting it as fair or harming your ability to fight for more.

How will I know I should fight for more?

The choice to fight, for many people, is a balance. How much additional compensation is the stress and trouble of a fight worth? How willing are you to go to court? Everyone’s answer may differ, but consider two things before you decide:

  1. The initial offer is usually far too low. Sometimes, it’s almost insultingly low. Even the smallest strip of land can make an enormous difference on how a property is used or could be used in the future. Additionally, you may be entitled to other expenses related to the taking, such as relocation expenses if you are forced to move. But you may have to fight for it.
  2. We’ll handle the details and lower your stress. Part of our job as attorneys is to reduce the amount of stress for our clients. Let us worry about the details and take care of any complex legal issues that come along. We do it every day. We’ll keep you informed, give you our perspective and opinion on what’s happening and your property’s value, and equip you with the knowledge to make the best possible decision for you and your family or business.

Can I defend myself without an eminent domain attorney?

You have the option to self-represent in an eminent domain taking, but understand that you may be up against a team of skilled attorneys who likely work on eminent domain cases all day, every day. That’s not exactly a recipe for success. 

You can settle at any time, or you can fight for more. We highly recommend you do so with the help of an experienced eminent domain attorney.

What happens if the NCDOT and I cannot agree?

In the event of an impasse with the condemning authority, your eminent domain case would go into the courtroom phase of litigation. That means things like discovery motions, depositions, and so on. You may need expert witnesses like appraisers, land planners, civil engineers, real estate agents, surveyors, and environmentalists, as appropriate. If that sounds complicated, it is – especially if you aren’t an attorney focused on eminent domain law.

If you have not hired an attorney by this point, you truly should consider doing so. Courts are not designed to accommodate those without a thorough understanding of law and how it works. It’s wise to leave courtroom actions to an attorney.

Can I sue the government in my eminent domain case?

Detour sign due to road construction in a residential neighborhood.If you’re not properly compensated for the harms and losses you suffer as a result of the taking, yes, you can. Generally speaking, this isn’t necessary if you fight for fair compensation after receiving the initial offer. No additional lawsuit is needed to fight your battle. Your goal is to prove that your property is worth more than that initial offer and get the government to pay the difference. That doesn’t require you to countersue the government. 

People do file lawsuits against the government when it fails to offer compensation while violating their property rights. This can happen in several ways. One common example is inverse condemnation. That’s another reason why talking to an attorney is key: they can tell you when it makes sense to file a lawsuit.

How much does eminent domain litigation cost?

That depends on the circumstances of your case, the billing practice your attorney uses (and you agree to), and the sunk costs of fighting your case. Sunk costs are the expenses related to gathering evidence, generally speaking. Hiring an appraiser or civil engineer has a cost. Deposing witnesses has a cost. 

In most cases, a firm like ours will “front” these expenses – we pay for the costs of gathering evidence and so on because we are confident in our ability to try to get more compensation for you. You pay nothing up front out of pocket. Our goal is to put more money in your pocket without ever taking money out of it.

In fact, if we fail to get you more than the government’s original offer, you won’t even have to pay the sunk costs. We will. That’s how confident we are that, if we take your case, we may be able to get you more.

How long does an eminent domain case take?

A surveyor in a hi vis vest working on a dirt hill.The time an eminent domain case takes to litigate depends heavily on the circumstances and evidence of the case, and on whether or not you’ve hired an attorney to represent you. It could take weeks, and it could take much, much longer.

For example, sometimes, we find errors in the NCDOT’s appraisal that make it obvious their offer is low or unfair. In those cases, instead of fighting, the NCDOT may choose to raise its offer to something we consider fair and that you may choose to accept. That may not take terribly long. 

We’re often able to negotiate with the NCDOT or condemning authority at levels most property owners cannot. We know who the decision-makers are, and sometimes we can get the problem solved – and more compensation – much more quickly than you could on your own.

On the other hand, we may obtain an appraisal that delivers a vastly different valuation than the NCDOT’s appraisal, and they may choose to fight instead of raising their offer. 

The length of a case can come down to how long both sides stick to their guns, so to speak. It’s possible the case would end up in court, and those battles can take longer. And the case could settle at any point during the proceedings if both sides agree to a solution.

What do I pay for an eminent domain attorney?

If you win your case and the condemning authority must pay additional compensation, the sunk costs of fighting your case will be repaid from those new funds, as will your attorney’s fees (depending on how your attorney bills for their work). Some attorneys charge an hourly rate and some, like us, work on a contingency fee basis. 

If you lose your case, some attorneys may still charge either for their hourly fees or for the sunk costs fighting your case or both. It is the fear of this exact circumstance that causes people to decline representation. You shouldn’t!

We guarantee that you will pay us nothing if we do not collect additional compensation for you above the government’s initial offer.1 We will not collect an attorney’s fee, and you will not pay any of the sunk costs of fighting your case. Furthermore, our fee will only come from the amount we’re able to collect over and above the government’s initial offer for your property – those funds are always yours to keep.

In other words, you have nothing to lose by hiring us to represent you. The minimum compensation you’ll receive is the government’s initial offer. 

How does an eminent domain attorney help in litigation?

To summarize why it’s a good idea to hire an eminent domain attorney to represent you in litigation, here’s a list of the advantages to hiring us:

  • Several attorneys who formerly worked for the NCDOT and use that knowledge to your advantage
  • No upfront costs
  • Lower stress
  • Experience and perspective to spot mistakes
  • Statewide knowledge, experience, and history working on eminent domain cases
  • Intimate, detailed knowledge of eminent domain law
  • Proprietary database of eminent domain information
  • Seasoned negotiation skills – knowing what can and cannot be considered for compensation
  • Network of industry experts to help build your case
  • Knowledge of the NCDOT and decision-makers with the power to resolve your case
  • Years of courtroom experience litigating eminent domain cases
  • No attorney’s fee1 unless we get more compensation for you AND
  • You don’t pay any sunk costs unless we get more compensation for you AND
  • The government’s initial offer is yours, and we will never touch it – guaranteed
  • Since our firm has been in business, we’ve raised the government’s initial offer by an average of 197% – more than three times as much1

If your property is the subject of eminent domain, get answers

Get a free case evaluation now. Call us at 1-877-393-4990 or contact us online and talk to us about your property and your situation. We’re confident that we can answer your questions and give you a good idea of where you stand and how we may be able to help you.

Get a free case evaluation

Get a free case
evaluation today.

There are only a handful of attorneys in NC who practice eminent domain exclusively, and even fewer with NCDOT experience. We have several. That’s why its worth getting in touch with us for a free case evaluation.

Here’s how it works:

1) Tell us about your situation.

2) We research your property as needed, using DOT maps, our own technology, and experience to see the exact effects.

3) We let you know what we think a fair offer would be. This evaluation is free, and there’s no
pressure or obligation to hire us after.

But please don’t wait to act. Waiting can hurt your case, and the cost is the same: free.

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