Steps to take for Filing a Small Claims Case
1. Determine the Claim Amount
A small claims court case is typically suitable for cases involving amounts less than $5,000. However, it is important to note that the court will only award you up to $5,000, even if you are owed more. Therefore, if your claim exceeds this limit, you may have to relinquish the remaining amount.
2. File a Statement of Claim and Pay the Filing Fee
To initiate the small claims case, you must file a Statement of Claim with the court. This document outlines the details of your claim, including the amount owed and the reasons behind it. Additionally, you will need to pay a filing fee, which varies between $200 and $250 depending on your location and court jurisdiction. This fee covers administrative costs.
3. Serve the Defendant
Once you have filed the claim, you need to ensure that the defendant receives a copy of the claim and is aware of the legal proceedings against them. You can enlist the services of a sheriff or hire a process server to carry out this task. The cost of serving the defendant typically ranges from $100 to $150. However, if the defendant attempts to evade service, the process may become more challenging and costly.
4. Attending the Pretrial and Conduct Mediation
After the defendant has been served, the court will schedule a pretrial hearing. This is not the actual trial but a preliminary session where the court checks if both parties are present. If the defendant appears, the court will refer the case to mediation. During mediation, a neutral third party will assist you and the defendant in reaching a resolution. If an agreement is reached, it will be documented and considered legally binding.
In the absence of a settlement, the court will proceed with scheduling a trial date. At this point, you will need to inform the judge about the witnesses you plan to present. The trial will typically occur within one to two months.
5. Prepare for the Trial
Prior to the trial, it is crucial to gather all necessary documents and arrange your witnesses to ensure you are well-prepared. Be ready to present your case before the judge, who will then render a verdict either immediately or after considering the evidence. Small claims trials generally last from one to two hours, occasionally extending to half a day.
Remember that winning the case is not the final step in the process. If the judgment is in your favor, you will receive a legal document affirming that the other party owes you a specific sum. However, collecting this amount is your responsibility. To do so, you may need to garnish bank accounts, issue writs of attachment, or involve the sheriff to seize the defendant's property. Collecting on a judgment can be complex, and you may require legal assistance.
Filing a small claims case, yourself can be a cost-effective way to resolve legal disputes involving modest amounts of money. By understanding the process and following the necessary steps, you can navigate through the small claims court system. Remember to utilize resources available online, such as guides provided by court clerks, for detailed instructions specific to your county. While the process may be challenging, a successful judgment can provide you with legal course to recover what you are owed.