The legal system is a broad system that starts in Small Claims Court and ends in the Supreme Court. This is not to say that every small claim will end up in the largest court of the land. In fact, most do not.
Supreme Court cases always involve issues regarding the Constitution of the United States and the Bill of Rights. They are precedential cases that have the power to change federal laws and regulations or overturn major court cases from the past.
There are many other levels of court that someone can take their complaint to, including divorce court for divorce situations, personal injury cases, and wrongful death suits.
What is Small Claims Court?
Small claims court is the arena that allows people to bring their small claims before a judge to get a judgment on their legal issue. They tend to focus on smaller issues that involve property or money.
These types of cases are not criminal cases. They are all civil cases that usually involve some financial loss or a disagreement regarding property ownership of small items. They may also include claims of unpaid debts such as a local business suing an individual for an unpaid bill.
The Atmosphere of Small Claims Court
One of the things you will notice about Small Claims Court is the informal atmosphere. Unlike a criminal or civil case that is tried in District Court or other courts, Small Claims issues are heard in a small, informal setting with a judge. But there is never a jury or a large audience as most cases are informal and involve individual differences between people.
How Does Small Claims Court Work?
A small claims court works by allowing an arena in which people can bring forth their disagreements with others (usually a neighbor, acquaintance, co-worker, or employer) in which they believe they have not received their due payment, property, or other possession. So they bring it before the court to have a judge determine what the outcome should be.
Is a lawyer usually present these court cases?
Lawyers are not usually involved in these types of court cases, but they can be. This is usually up to the individual who is bringing the small claim before the judge. If they feel that having representation in the case will help their case, they may elect to bring a lawyer with them. But it is not required.
Many people feel confident enough with their small court claims to handle the issue themselves before a judge. If they have everything documented well, they may be able to represent their interests in a court of claims.
How to find a small claims lawyer near me
If you decide to have legal representation with this type of court case, you can look for a lawyer who handles these types of cases in your area.
Types of Cases Often Heard in Small Claims Court
There are a variety of cases which might be heard in this kind of court. Some of the most common types of Small Claims Court cases are listed below.
- Breach of contract– A contract is a legally binding agreement. Contracts may be drawn up for the purchase of a car or house, an employment agreement, or a sale of property or other situations. It is understood that both parties will abide by the clauses in the contract in shared responsibility. When one party fails to live up to these standards, the other party may sue them for “breach of contract.” Small claims forms can be filled out on any breach of contract case to be heard in small court arenas.
- Unpaid debts for small amounts– One of the most common types of court cases involves unpaid debts. When someone fails to pay their debts to a business or other entity, the owed party may bring a small claims court case against them.
- Evictions– If you have been unfairly evicted from your house or apartment, you may be able to bring this before a conciliation court of small claims court.
- Personal injury
- Requests for a return of property
How to take someone to Small Claims Court
If you have a legal matter that you need to solve within the court system, you may want to consider taking them to Small Claims Court to explain your disagreement. Whether the case involves unpaid bills that are owed to you, property damage, or unfair treatment, breach of contract, or other issues, the small claims court arena may offer a solution for your issue.
To take someone to Small Claims Court, follow the following steps:
1. First, evaluate your case to determine if it is a case that should be heard in a Small Claims Court environment. If your claim involves a large sum of money, you may be better off to skip the small court and go to the district court level, instead. Courts involving smaller claims will usually deny or dismiss a case that is too complex or involved a large amount of money, as these cases are supposed to be heard in a higher court.
2. Once you have evaluated your case and gotten your documentation together, you should consult with a lawyer if you want to involve an attorney in your case. There is always the chance that a small claim matter can turn into a larger one if the court if not able to solve your legal issue in a small court.
3. If it involves unpaid bills or money owed to you, write a letter to the defendant and demand payment. This can be a last-ditch attempt to collect your money in a way that does not involve the legal system. If you know that the person owes the money, you should include documentation of the money owed or the unpaid bill, along with a warning that you will pursue legal action if they fail to meet their obligation.
4. For cases involving a signed contract, remind the person of their obligations under the contract and ask them to take care of the matter so that you will not have to seek legal action. If they fail to follow through, then your only course of action may be to seek compensation through the court.
5. File a claim. You will need to go to your local courthouse and secure the proper documents for filing a small claim. Forms are available for these small cases that you must fill out and have with you when you appear before a judge on your court date.
6. Determine the exact name of the person you plan to sue. You cannot sue businesses, schools, or organizations. You may have a legal problem with an entire business in your mind, but the blame falls to specific persons who were responsible for the loss that you suffered. Look for someone who you believe was negligent regarding your legal manner and name them on the case.
7. Do your homework and come prepared. When you decide to pursue a Small Claims Court case against someone, you will need to do your research and include anything that might help your case. For example, if it is about an unpaid debt owed to you, include any documentation that shows your attempt to collect the due amount, along with any communications that you had with the defendant and other information that might help aid you in proving your case.
Finally, think about whether you should pursue help from an attorney or not. The most important factor regarding this situation is whether you think the legal fees that you will pay for the services of an attorney are worth paying to win your case. If you think you can do it on your own, you may be better off to go it alone. However, some cases are complicated and involve a long paper trail or several “proofs” that you must show in court to the judge who is considering the case. In these types of cases, it may be to your advantage to search for small claims lawyer near me to find a lawyer to help in your case.
The Need for Documentation
Small Claims Court cases require you to have your information carefully documented if you want to have a chance at winning your case. As mentioned before, it is critical that you keep careful records of the transaction, legal situation, or disagreement with the other party. Evidence can be brought forth to support your case that includes any of the following types of documentation:
Photos and Videos
If you have photos and videos that help prove your case, you should keep these in a safe place. Then you will need to think of a way to present them in court. Even though you will likely not have a large audience or a jury who will see the photos or videos, consider the fact that you will at least need to show them to the judge. You will also have to make them available to be viewed by your opponent (the defendant in your case). You can display them on a large screen TV or pass around copies of the photos if they are printed out. Have a plan in place before you go that will allow all interested parties to view them.
Emails, letters, and contracts
Bring copies of any and all emails, letters, and contracts that are relevant to the case and remember the legal phrase, “irrelevant and immaterial.” These are terms that the other side may try to use to get a judge to throw them out. These terms usually follow an “objection” in a court of law. This is a legal action taken in court either by the lawyer of your opponent or the person themselves if they are without representation.
Once an objection has been made, the judge will either rule “overruled” (which means they are going to allow the material) or “sustained” which means that they will throw the material out or disallow it. Even though this is a small case, the same legal actions, means, and terminology apply to these types of cases.
Be aware of their use and avoid bringing anything into the court arena that could be considered irrelevant or immaterial to your case. You only want to bring in evidence or documentation that will help your case.
Recordings of Verbal Agreements
If you have any audio or video recording such as depositions, verbal contracts, or other recordings, these may be admitted if they are seen by the judge in advance. Remember that you cannot present “surprise” evidence that the judge and the other side has not been allowed to see ahead of time. These types of evidence may be thrown out since it is considered unfair to spring new evidence on the court without warning.
If you have a small claim that you want to pursue, it is advisable that you do talk to an attorney who is familiar with these types of cases before you take action or file a claim. If you discuss your case with a lawyer, you will be more familiar with the process of small claims cases, and this may put you at an advantage over your opponent in a court.
Remember to document well, think ahead, and be prepared. The more you know about your opponent and their position, the more you can win your case. Stick to the facts. Don’t include your opinion as this will not be considered by a judge. Just state what happened, what the person did or did not pay or do and how this is a violation of your rights or negligence of a financial obligation to you.
Let the judge determine the consequences. That’s what they are there for.