How to Sue in Small Claims Court
You know, I hate people that sue just for the sake of trying to collect a little cash. However, 24 hours ago I made the decision to sue. In fact, I’m suing a lawyer that I hired almost a year ago because he essentially took my $800 and did nothing.
I’ve never had to do this before but repeated attempts to contact this attorney have failed. I suppose it’s good that I paid by check and logged all of my un-returned phone calls (over 20) because that will help in court.
However, where do you start? When someone absolutely rips you off, what is the best way to get your money back when it appears as if they are a total fraud?
It’s time for a little research. So what is small claims court?
The Small Claims Court is a place for the speedy trial of lawsuits (sometimes called complaints) based upon contract or tort (breach of a legal duty) seeking $10,000 or less. Filing and pre-trial procedures are simplified compared to other lawsuits. However, the rules of law and evidence that apply to other lawsuits also do apply to small claim trials. The parties are not required to have attorneys but may choose to have one. Source: State of Illinois, 19 Circuit Court
After that basic understanding, you have know your state’s rules pertaining to small claims court. Here are a few resources that were actually hard to find because any mention of the word lawyer or court and 90% of the sites are spam.
- FreeAdvice.com – Good info, no overbearing ads and it goes state-by-state.
- National Center for State Courts – Same description as above.
- ConsumerAffairs.com: A lot of advertising on the site, but it gives you a decent state-by-state breakdown on the rules.
- [pdf] Small Claims Handbook: A Guide for Non Lawyers
Ok, so what does it cost?
Well, I’ve noticed that the costs vary state-by-state. However, you’re only looking at $25-$100. That’s nothing. However, the losing party will generally have to pay for court costs. That will include any service fees, subpoena fees, etc. So if you sue someone based on a bunch of garbage, you are on the hook for all of the fees. Basically, any jurisdictional fee will be paid by the loser. HOWEVER, lost income from work (should you need time off for court), phone calls, travel expenses, and the like are NOT included here.
When can I sue?
Well, it has to be a civil case and not a criminal case. Here are some basic occassions:
- property damage (your window was smashed);
- breach of contract (they were supposed to replace the plumbing, but they only patched a few areas);
- product liability (my microwave exploded and started a fire)
- fraud cases (the sign said50% off but the store refused to honor it).
Do I need a lawyer for small claims court?
Simple answer here is no, however, you are free to hire a lawyer to have them handle the case.
There are other questions like “How to I actually file” but that varies greatly state-by-state, in fact, each county has their own process so I would rather point you to the links above.