Definition of Small Claims Court
What is small claims court? They exist in every state and they provide recourse to recover damages of relatively small amounts of money. You can use the small claims court in your area if your claim is less than a certain dollar amount, which varies from state to state, but typically ranges from $1,000 to $7,500.
In a small claims court, you can represent yourself (you don't need to hire an attorney) and cases are heard by a local judge, magistrate, or special appointee. The Rules of Procedure and Rules of Evidence that attorneys must follow in regular court are typically much more relaxed.
The creation of small claims courts unclogs the court system by moving small cases through quickly, and it gives citizens a means to recover losses in a quick and inexpensive manner.
How Do You File a Claim?
Even before you file the claim, you must have made attempts to settle the issue with the other party. Document these attempts, and if nothing comes of them, make sure to send a final demand letter via the proper delivery system. The court will want to know that you made appropriate efforts before filing your claim.
Next, you need to determine the suitability of your case. Where did the event in question occur? The answer to that question will determine which particular court has jurisdiction. Once you determine which court has jurisdiction, visit that small claims court in person or online to obtain the forms you need. They usually provide a very comprehensive packet with clear instructions for how to file your motion and serve the complaint on the defendant.
Then calculate your exact damages. The dollar amount involved must be less than the threshold amount in your jurisdiction, or between maximum and minimum amounts. You must also file the claim within the time range specified in the statute of limitations. If it has been a long time since the event in question, make sure it's suitable to bring the case. If it was a recent event, don't wait forever to file the claim!
You'll also want to determine the likelihood of actually getting any money from the other party. If it's a business, you may stand a better chance. If it's an individual, do a little research first. There is no sense wasting your time going through this process to get a judgment, only to find that you'll never be able to collect.
How to Get Ready
If all this seems intimidating, you can use our Small Claims Worksheet to help you gather the correct information and work your way, step-by-step, through the process. It's easy to use. Just click on the link and access the worksheet. If another party has caused you financial damage and refuses to voluntarily pay, small claims court may be the ideal way to resolve the issue.
This article contains general legal information and does not contain legal advice. Rocket Lawyer is not a law firm or a substitute for an attorney or law firm. The law is complex and changes often. For legal advice, please ask a lawyer.