how to successfully sue someone in Small Claims Court
Small Claims Court is the People’s Court, set up for pro se representation. It was made for quick and easy judgment without all the rigamarole of the House of Horrors.
Upper Civil Courts = House of Horrors
🍪 Smart Cookie Tip: The stakes are low, with recovery limits ranging from $3,000 to $25,000 and averaging about $10,000, depending on your state. Thus, the name Small Claims.
Each state has a hierarchy of civil courts ranked according to case value. Typically, each state has a Small Claims Court for claims up to their Small Claims limit and one or more courts for cases of higher value than small claims. If your claim is more than the Small Claims Court limit, you can still bring it in Small Claims. You just must reduce the amount you are asking.
🍪 Smart Cookie Tip: Most states use the name Small Claims Court to describe their entry level court. After that the names vary for their courts that hear civil cases valued higher than Small Claims, which we refer to collectively on this site as the Upper Civil Courts (as compared to Small Claims).
Work your case through Lawsuit Analyzer© which evaluates your dispute and your likelihood of winning, calculates your case value, and identifies the Forum and the State your case will be heard in.
Go to our When and Where to File my Lawsuit to determine which County and Civil Court to file your case in and whether your case meets its filing deadline.
The Small Claims process is about as quick and easy as it gets. It’s informal and doesn’t involve the mumbo jumbo of the upper-level civil courts.
Anyone can use Small Claims to quickly recover money damages. In law, everything boils down to money. Payment of money is the punishment for all civil wrongs. If you’ve been damaged, money is your compensation, with a few exceptions.
Attorney representation or pro se in Small Claims Court?
Most states permit attorney representation, but pro se users pick up the torch and do it on their own. Most often there is not a need to turn your case over to counsel since the Small Claims Court has recently come into its Heyday.
Some valuable benefits have flowed from the Covid-19 pandemic, one being that the People’s Forum received a whopping overhaul delivering the Small Claims Court to the lap of the pro se litigant.
We now have platforms in most states that allow pro se litigants to access and complete forms online, file them, and in some states serve them. Not only that, but the inconvenience and disempowerment features of the Small Claims Court have fallen away due to many locales now permitting remote Zoom hearings. It doesn’t get any better than this for the Small Claims litigant who has become a beneficiary of the pandemic. Our Small Claims Court Coach is jam packed with information about these tools which are challenging to locate on your own.
Small Claims Case Value Limitation
Understanding your case value is essential for obvious reasons.
- So you can weigh how much time and effort to put into obtaining a judgment.
- Your case value must not exceed the Small Claims Court limit in your State if you want to bring it in this quick and easy forum.
Lawsuit Analyzer© values your case and provides a multi-phase comprehensive assessment. In the valuation process, it identifies the Small Claims Court limit for the state where you will file your case. The Help files are a mini legal education with one of the pivotal steps to drive you into Small Claims Court if the alternative is the upper civil courts.
Below is a sample Phase 5 chart from Lawsuit Analyzer© which we’ve used in some of the other resource pages. It depicts the scenario where this claimant, a self-publishing author, will have to battle it out in the upper civil court with the printer who botched two-thirds of his books. His Recoverable Damages are $12,000 and he’s estimated to net $10,400 when he finally gets to judgment day. Is the battle really worth it when looking at the time, expense and stress involved?
- Work your case through Lawsuit Analyzer©
- Complete the steps in When and Where to File My Lawsuit
- Name your Defendants
- Perform a Collectability Assessment.
- Assess the possibility of a Countersuit
- Decide whether to hire an attorney
- Prepare and send a Demand Letter to each Defendant
- Decide if you want to engage in Automated Negotiation or Mediation
- Follow the Steps on The Small Claims Court website you will file In
- Prepare your claim and attachments
- File your claim and serve it on your Defendant(s)
- Engage in Automated Negotiation and/or Mediation if elected in Step 8.
- Conduct your hearing | assess appeal rights
- Have your judgment entered and begin collection procedures