In California, the “prevailing party” in litigation is generally entitled to recover its costs as a matter of law. See Cal. Code Civ. Proc. § 1032. But under California Code of Civil Procedure section 998, a party may make a so-called “offer to compromise,” which can reverse the parties’ entitlement to costs after the date of the offer, depending on the outcome of the litigation. Cal. Code Civ. Proc. § 998. The potential payoff of a 998 offer to compromise is explained in section 998(c)(1):
If an offer made by a defendant is not accepted and the plaintiff fails to obtain a more favorable judgment or award, the plaintiff shall not recover his or her postoffer costs and shall pay the defendant’s costs from the time of the offer.
Cal. Code Civ. Proc. § 998(c)(1) (emphasis added).
The Basic Requirements for a Valid 998 Offer
Pursuant to section 998(b), a 998 offer must satisfy three principal conditions: (1) it must be contained in a writing; (2) it must state the terms and conditions of the proposed judgment or award; and (3) it must contain a provision allowing the offeree to accept the offer by signing a statement to that effect. Cal. Code Civ. Proc. § 998(b).