Written by AskTheLawyers.com™
Written by AskTheLawyers.com™
Small Claims Overview
Ask a Small Claims Lawyer for Legal Advice
Every state has different laws regarding what is considered a small claim. Small claims are typically inexpensive and handle problems in which one party’s damages were relatively minor, falling below the maximum amount set by the state in which the issue occurred. Additionally, the legal process for small claims issues tends to be relatively straightforward. While speaking to an attorney is still recommended, some parties choose to handle small claims court on their own.
Depending on your state, the amount of money you ask for could fall anywhere between $2,500 and $25,000. It should be noted that the winning party in a small claims issue generally cannot recoup attorney’s fees from the losing party. Seeing as people generally represent themselves in these situations, this is often a non-issue. In most states, the statute of limitations or time limit regarding small claims issues is two years from the date of the issue in question. After this time limit passes, there isn’t much anyone can do to resolve the damage.
Common Matters Handled in Small Claims Courts
There are a wide variety of issues that can be handled in small claims courts, and of those, there are several types of cases that are more common than the others. It may help to sit down with an attorney and evaluate your case to see what kind of evidence is available to you.
Let’s go over some common matters handled in small claims courts:
- Landlord disputes: This may include a failure to return a security deposit or even an unlawful eviction.
- Gym contract disputes: This may occur when one party claims they were unfairly charged or stuck in an unfair contract.
- Bad debt: This occurs when one party owes another one money but fails to pay it in full or at all.
- Overcharges: These can occur in any scenario where a company blatantly overcharged for a service.
- Disputes between neighbors: These often occur over property lines, fences, and property damage to name a few.
- Other contract disputes: Any breach of contract or warranty could qualify to be heard in small claims court.
- Defamation: These cases involve libel or slander of one party by another, and can be handled in small claims court if the financial damages do not exceed that state’s guidelines for small claims courts.
- Property damage: These cases arise when one party has damaged another party’s property through negligence or intention, and the damages do not exceed the state’s small claims courts guidelines.
How to File a Small Claims Issue
The process for filing a small claims issue in small claims court is relatively simple, and may involve paying a filing fee of up to $150 in addition to any other court costs, settlement, or verdict decided by the judge. It should be noted that if the other party is notified of the trial date yet fails to show up, you automatically win. Steps to follow when preparing to file in small claims courts include:
- Gather evidence. Any kind of documentation, photographs, videos, or official reports supporting the issue at hand could be useful in proving to a judge that a situation happened as you say it did. It’s important to keep any pertinent evidence in a safe place where it cannot be lost or deleted.
- Gather witness information. It’s important to obtain the names and contact information of witnesses to the issue. If you can convince these witnesses to testify on your behalf, that can majorly strengthen a case. Additionally, you may ask for permission to record these witness testimonies if a witness seems reluctant to appear in court.
- Decide on the amount of compensation you want to ask for. This is where it might be helpful to speak to an attorney regarding your situation if you are unsure what amount of compensation to ask for. It’s important to be able to show your reasoning behind requesting the amount you choose to ask for.
- Fill out all court forms and pay all court fees. Depending on your state, you may be required to fill out different forms to bring an issue to small claims court than elsewhere. Make sure you have filed all the necessary paperwork and paid any applicable fees before your court date.
- Attend your hearing and jury trial if applicable. If you or the other party fail to attend the hearing and/or jury trial if a judge decides the latter is necessary, you will likely forfeit winning the case to the other party.
- Let the judge decide. It’s important to follow the judge’s instructions at the completion of the case to ensure that you receive any damages or pay out any damages as legally required to avoid further complications.
To learn more about issues that qualify for small claims court, or to discuss your situation with a professional, seek legal counsel. Research your state’s qualifications for small claims to make sure you are pursuing the appropriate course of legal action for your issue.