What Are the Basics of Small Claims Court?

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vermont divorce

vermont divorceWhether you are filing a claim against someone or you are being sued, for most people, it is a new experience. When you do not have experience with something, you tend to make mistakes that those who have been there before would easily avoid. One legal venue that regular joes and janes are likely to experience at some point in their life is small claims court.

Just last month, a man in Austin, Texas filed a claim in small claims court against an electric scooter rental company. Per the Austin American Statesman, the man was sitting in his Mazda 3 at a stoplight near the intersection of Barton Springs Road and South First Street when the collision occurred. Reportedly, another man was riding one of the company’s scooters in the bike lane at the same intersection when he side-swiped the Mazda 3. The scooter rider left the scene of the crash before the police arrived or the driver could get his contact information.

Therefore, the driver of the Mazda 3 is suing the scooter rental company for $3,000 in small claims court. The $3,000 is for damage to his vehicle, rental car costs, and expenses he incurred, because he had to cancel a vacation to deal with the situation. The electric scooter rental company is contending that they cannot be sued for an accident that was caused by customer who was riding one of their scooters.

How Does Small Claims Court Work?

Small claims court shares some similarities with other forms of court, but it is also unique in some ways. Here is how the small claims court process work:

  • File a claim at a local courthouse
  • To file a claim, you will need the name of the defendant or defendants, detailed description of what happened, proof that the incident occurred, and any other information the court requests.
  • After filing the claim and providing the required information, the court will provide a court date and serve the defendant or defendants.
  • In many cases, the parties will be required to meet with a moderator and try to reach a settlement. If an agreement is reached, there will be no court proceedings. However, if moderation does not work, the parties will argue their cases in front of a judge.
  • If the court rules in favor of the plaintiff, the most that the defendant can be ordered to pay is the maximum limit allowed in the county where the case takes place, plus any court fees. Generally, the defendant has 30 days from the ruling to pay the defendant the money. If the defendant does not pay the money in 30 days, the parties may have to return to small claims court.

When is It Worth It to Take Someone to Small Claims Court?

It can be risky to take someone to court, even if it is small claims court. If your claim is found to be invalid, you could be stuck paying court fees and other expenses without the benefit of receiving the money you’re owed. Also, if the defendant feels they have a claim against you, he or she may be able to file a claim of defendant, which allows the defendant to file a countersuit against the plaintiff. This could result in you paying the defendant instead of the other way around. Still, if you do have a valid claim, such as the defendant owes you a small amount of money he or she borrowed or a tenant broke his or her lease and owes you rent, you should discuss your case with a civil lawyer and then move forward with filing a lawsuit in small claims court as long as the attorney agrees you have a valid claim against the defendant.

What Should I Do If Someone Files a Small Claims Court Lawsuit Against Me?

If you are hit with a small claims court lawsuit, you have options and it is possible you could be on the right side of a favorable outcome when all is said and done. First, you should speak with an experienced civil attorney about your situation to learn whether the plaintiff has a valid case against you and what your best options are moving forward.

In some instances, there may have been procedural problems with the way the case was filed or the way you were served, which you could use to invalidate the claim. If your opposition has a valid claim against you, you could try negotiating a settlement with them or convincing them to settle the dispute in mediation. If the court rules in favor of the plaintiff, but you cannot afford to pay what you owe the plaintiff, in some cases, you may be able to request that you pay in installments. If you feel like the plaintiff is in the wrong instead of you, you can file a claim of defendant, which enables you to countersue them.

Consider consulting a civil attorney to fully explore your options if you are involved with the small claims court.

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