Frequently Asked Questions About Small Claims Court

What is small claims court?

What’s the difference between small claims court and county court?

Can a lawyer represent me in small claims court?

Who can sue or be sued in small claims court?

How do I file my claim and how long does it take?

I’ve been sued, what do I do?

Can the claim be settled before the hearing?

How do I prepare for my court date?

Q: What is small claims court?

A: Small claims is a division of a municipal or county court designed to provide easy court access to non-lawyers. The cases are heard by a magistrate, who is a lawyer appointed to resolve the dispute. Small claims courts handle cases involving only monetary damages of no more than $3,000.
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Q: What’s the difference between small claims court and county court?

A: A county court is similar to a municipal court, but it covers a territorial area. For both county and municipal courts, the court can hear cases which do not exceed $15,000 dollars. In many instances, a county court has a small claims court within it that is presided over by a magistrate.
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Q: Can a lawyer represent me in small claims court?

A: Yes, an attorney can represent you in small claims court, but it is not required. In fact, the goal is to make the court accessible to non-lawyers. When you file the complaint and represent yourself in court, you are appearing pro-se.
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Q: Who can sue or be sued in small claims court?

A: In general, anyone 18 years or older can sue or be sued in small claims court. A minor under the age of 18 may file a lawsuit through a parent or guardian. Corporations, partnerships, and limited liability companies may be sued in small claims court. You may present evidence concerning your side in a dispute, but you may not engage in advocacy. If you advocate on behalf of an organization, you may violate rules about the unauthorized practice of law.
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Q: How do I file my claim and how long does it take?

A: You begin a lawsuit on a small claim by filing a formal statement of claim with the small claims court. Your statement must contain a description of the nature and amount of your claim.
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Q: I’ve been sued, what do I do?

A: Remember, if someone has filed a small claim against you, the court will send you official notice. The notice and its attachments will give you important information, such as the name and address of the plaintiff, the basis and the amount of the claim, the name of the court where the claim was filed, and the date & time that you must appear to resolve the claim.

In many cases, the official notice from the court will also tell you how to respond to the claim, but the nature of your response depends on what you think about the claim that is being made.

Whether you file a written response or not you must appear at the hearing on the date and time in the official notice.
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Q: Can the claim be settled before the hearing?

A: Yes, the claim could be settled before the hearing. For a settlement to occur, the parties must agree upon an amount to settle the claim and notify the court in writing. This is important because your written notice of settlement will be made part of the record and your case will then be dismissed.

Be advised that the court will not return any fees or other court costs that were paid. So be sure to include that when you consider a settlement amount.
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Q: How do I prepare for my court date?

A: It doesn’t matter if you’re the plaintiff or the defendant, your job at the formal hearing (trial) is to give the judge the facts and convince the judge that he or she should decide in your favor. Don’t forget that the hearing is your opportunity to present your claim, defense, and counterclaim. Both sides will have an opportunity to present a case and evidence to support it.

Before the hearing, collect your evidence, contact your witnesses, and make a written outline of your case. Your evidence may include:

  • Your testimony
  • The testimony of witnesses
  • Written items such as sales receipts, contracts, leases, warranties, promissory notes, IOUs, memos, notes, letters, postal return receipts, unclaimed letter notices, etc.
  • Items relevant to the case – for example, a piece of faulty merchandise on which your claim or defense is based
  • Photos or diagrams, perhaps of the damage to some item or the scene of the incident
  • Anything that can support your case may be useful as evidence

Be on time to the hearing. You don’t want to lose simply because your case was called and you were not there.
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