Small Claims Court in the USA: Facts You Need To Know Before Filing

There will always be a time when disputes will inevitably arise. The problem with this is that we do not know how big or small an issue will be for us.

For this, several kinds of legal aid can help us. The most famous would be filing lawsuits in a state court. However, different cases warrant the utilization of other courts. Filing lawsuits in a state court is costly. If your case’s filing fee is more than what your case is worth, then there is another option for you.

The small claims court might be the choice for you. What is the small claims court? and When to use the small claims court? This court manages disputes like private ones, small debts, tenant disputes, or generally those that do not involve a massive amount of money.  Filing here costs significantly less than what a state court would cost you!

This article will tackle the essential details with small claims court in the USA. You might find also our article on right to repair interesting as it has a big effect on your rights. If you are curious or you happen to avail of their services, this article is right for you! If you are from Canada or the UK, please check out What You Need To Know About Small Claims Courts in UK and Canada

Lawsuits are inevitable since we do not have the best control over all the things that we encounter.

You might find yourself using online courts or heard about virtual courts, in that case, read more at USA’s Virtual Courts: Here’s What You Need to Know and What is the Difference Between Online Dispute Resolution and Virtual Courts?

What is a Small Claims Court?

As a citizen, it is your right to settle disputes that you would face legally. However, the legal and court field is very vast. It is very easy to be overwhelmed and feel lost. For now, let us talk about the small claims court.

Small claims courts have smaller jurisdiction compared to the state courts. Despite this, they still function to solve “small claims” and help clients manage their disputes at this court. In some countries, small claims courts are referred to as a county or a magistrate’s court.

You can say that a small claims court is somewhat a special type of court. They help clients resolve their disputes fast and with less pricey fees. One of the main differences between small claims courts is their formality. Generally, they are less formal, and attorneys are not in the hearings. (Source)

Filing or defending cases in small claims courts is not limited to the United States. These kinds of courts are also present in other countries such as Australia, England, Hongkong, Philippines, Singapore, and many more!

Estimated Cost and Length of Time in Filing Claims Here

Talking about how much and how long a small claims court can cost you is very important.

As previously mentioned, this kind of court provides inexpensive fees and manages disputes in a short amount of time! But around how much exactly are we talking about here?

The amount of the claim dictates the fee needed for filing a case on it in a small claims court. If your claims cost $1,500, the price is $30. For claims between$1,500 to $5,000, the fee is $50. Lastly, if it costs more than that, the filing fee is $75.

However, this varies from court to court and from client to client. Sometimes a filing fee may be imposed differently on clients that have previously filed multiple cases or otherwise stated by the court.

Are you short on time? Or are you an impatient person? Do not worry since the small claims court, on average, resolves cases within 30 to 40 days after filing a claim.

This estimate might change since case hearings on the small claims courts are only on weekends and operate during business hours. (Source)

What Kind of Disputes Can Be Resolved Here?

Since small claims courts are unique, not all kinds of legal problems can be brought here. The cost of the overall case is a factor that you should consider. Legal entities such as corporations, partnerships, or associations must have cases amounting to less than or equal to $5,000.

One of the powers of a small claims court is its ability to order a defendant to act on a dispute as long as claiming a certain amount of money is included in the filed lawsuit.

For example, if your filed dispute is the return of an appliance from your neighbor, the court can help you get back the appliance or have your neighbor pay for it.

Particular examples of disputes that you might be able to file in a small claims court are the following:

  • Disputes between a landlord who refused to return of security deposit
  • Car fenders who refuse to pay car repairs
  • Television warranty stores who refuse to address repairs or replacement of your recent purchase
  • Damage to your apartment caused by a tenant who refuses to pay
  • Fraudulent purchases of cars
  • Disputes between people who refuse to pay back debts
  • Failure to repay loans
  • Damaged clothing during cleaning or alteration
  • Personal injuries or dog bites.
  • Failure to meet contract terms
  • Evictions (depending on the state)
  • Libel or defamation
  • False arrest

Even though a small claims court has the term “small” in it, there are a lot of cases that you can file here! As long as you can adequately articulate your case in court, you can definitely get back what you needed in the first place.

Although these are a lot, experts have suggested that filing in small claims court is not always the way to go, even if your case falls under the previously mentioned instances. How can you know if the small claims court is the place for you?

Is Small Claims Court The Best For Your Disputes?

The small claims court may not always be your best choice, especially if other dispute resolution processes are available to help you. You might also want to know more about arbitration and mediation and compare if these will be better in resolving your legal problem.

Moreover, have an idea of how the law works. Do you think that the law works on your case? Small claims judges always work in the best interest of the law and interpret it to achieve a reasonable and fair resolution for both parties.

If you feel like the law might not be your best way to defend your problem, voluntary mediation can give you better and more favorable outcomes.

Since filing claims take time, you need to ensure that you can adequately give your time and effort so that your filed case can proceed and be resolved in a small claims court.

Even though only a small fee is required and the time to process and resolve an issue here is relatively fast, that does not mean that you do not have to watch over it! All the preparations, data gathering, meetings, and attending hearings are most likely in-person, and you need to allot your time for that.

Small claims courts are considered by some experts as a “last resort” in clients that want to have fair litigations. Why is this so? (Source)

An attorney has outlined essential questions to help you decide if filing in a small claims court:

  1. What is your injury?
  2. Will the money involved make an impact on making you whole again?
  3. Can you specifically have documents or bodies of evidence to prove the agreement or problem in question?

If you are confident with your answers to those questions, you have an excellent case to be filed, and filing them in a small claims court might be the best option for you.

Small Claims Court: What Should You Expect?

You cannot just waltz in a small claims court if you do not have an idea of what to expect!

First, the court and jury world have their own language. Therefore, there are some basic terminologies that you need to know about so that you can keep up with the conversations!

For instance, people that file a claim are referred to as plaintiffs. On the contrary, people who have a lawsuit filed against them is the defendant.

Moreover, laws are the backbone of producing the most appropriate jurisdiction. So, you need to know the most applicable laws on the case you are trying to file.

This is very important because if a law is not congruent with what you are trying to point to, the results might not favor you.

In addition, know what kinds of claims can be filed in your state’s small claims court. There are instances where different states accommodate different disputes. Some might offer this in this specific state but not provide it in another.

In Summary

As previously mentioned, disputes inevitably arise. The best way to deal with these is to arm yourself with knowledge on how to manage these. One of the courts that you might want to check out is the small claims court!

Now that you have seen most of the valuable information you need to know before walking into a small claims court and filing, you are now ready to face what’s next!

With a small claims court’s low filing fee, numerous handled cases, established reputation, and short processing time, you can definitely get the best out of your experience!

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