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Objective information on small claims judgement collection

Small Claims Court FAQ’s

The following frequently asked questions address issues if you chose to go to small claims court. However, if you wish to use one of the alternative methods of dispute resolution, please contact us and we will be happy to get you started.

What is Small Claims Court?

The Small Claims Section is a court in which you may sue someone (the defendant) to collect a small amount of money that you believe is owed to you. Because procedures in Small Claims are simpler than in other courts, persons usually can file and present their cases relatively quickly and inexpensively, and often without an attorney.

What Types of Claims can be Filed?

Although this list may vary slightly from state to state, these are some of the typical claims. Note that tenant/landlord claims cannot be taken to small claims court if there is a court which specifically addresses those matters.

  • Breach of a written or oral contract.
  • Return of money used as a down payment.
  • Property damage caused by a motor vehicle accident.
  • Damage to or loss of property.
  • Consumer complaints for defective merchandise or faulty workmanship.
  • Payment for work performed.
  • Claims based on bad checks.
  • Claims for back rent.
  • Return of a tenant's security deposit.
  • Claims arising from professional malpractice (for example, alleged malpractice by a doctor, dentist, or lawyer).
  • Claims for support or alimony from a marital or a domestic dispute.
  • Claims arising from a probate matter.
  • Claims greater than allowable in your state.
  • Criminal cases.

Who Can File a Small Claims Case?

The small claims court can be used by any individual 18 or older, or by any partnership, association or corporation for civil claims that do not exceed the state’s maximum limit.

Do You Need an Attorney in Small Claims Court?

Because the procedures in small claims courts are simplified, and most cases can be filed and acted upon fairly quickly and inexpensively, an attorney is not necessary. States have different policies regarding the use of lawyers for small claims. Some states allow them; some only allow the plaintiff the right to have a lawyer if the defendant acquires one; some, only if both parties agree; and some do not allow attorneys under any circumstances. In some jurisdictions, however, corporations must still be represented by a lawyer.

One thing to note is that even in states that do not allow the use of lawyers in court, you can certainly utilize legal services to prepare your case or collect your judgment.

What Should I Do Before I File a Claim?

The first thing you need to do is determine how much you are owed or believe you are owed. Then check with your state to find out the maximum you may claim. If the limit is less than you are owed, there are two choices available to you. First, you can chose to consult with and hire an attorney and get on a regular court docket; or you may decide to limit your claim to the maximum the state allows you to collect.

Secondly, try and collect your money from the other party or attempt to come to an agreement for payment before you use the court system or some alternative strategy.

Next, you should do some digging to ensure that the other party has the money or assets to pay the judgment should you prevail. If there is more than one party that you could sue, determine which one you would most likely be able to collect from.

How Long Do I Have to File My Claim?

Each state has its own statute of limitations or time limit on when the case can be filed. One thing that does not differ is that the statute of limitations clock begins to run at the time that the events giving rise to the action occurred. Click here to view the statute of limitations in each state for the most common types of claims.

How Much Does It Cost to File A Claim?

Fees for filing a small claims case vary from state to state. Filing fees average $30–$50, but can run $10 -$220 or more depending on location and the amount of money involved in the claim. Additionally, there will be a fee for a process server. If you win, however, these fees can be recovered. Check with your state to find out your exact fee.

Another point to remember is that using an attorney in small claims court or consulting one prior to going to court can add a significant amount to the fees for filing.

How Do I File a Claim?

For small claims cases, there are forms, a format to follow, and instructions available at the appropriate court house. In general however, the following information is required:

  • Your full name and address;
  • The legal name and address of the person, corporation, or business to ensure proper service of the complaint;
  • The amount of money you are suing for;
  • The reason why the defendant owes the money;
  • Your signature on the form; and,
  • The appropriate filing fee, without which your case will not be accepted.

Be sure to that you include in your information, the fact that you have made a reasonable attempt to collect the money before bringing the matter to court.

Be sure, too, that you let the court know if either party is involved in any other case; and if so, which court is handling that case.

Can I File a Counterclaim?

If a claim has been filed against you, you can file a claim by following the same procedure as listed above for the initial claim. Normally the counterclaim must be filed on or before the answer to the complaint is due (usually within 20 days after service) and you should label your explanation “counterclaim”.

How Do I Prepare for My Day in Court?

You want to prove your case so you want to be organized and have all of the pertinent information with you. Remember every case is different but here are a few important pieces of information that you should have with you:

  • Cancelled checks and receipts;
  • Bills, contracts, leases, estimates, etc.;
  • Letters showing your attempt to correct the situation;
  • Photographs;
  • Any other documents you feel are appropriate.

Can I Appeal the Decision?

If either the plaintiff or the defendant do not agree with the judge’s decision, you may file an appeal with a higher court within a given number of days (usually 45) required by the state. The appeals court has different names in different states so you will need to check with the clerk.

Filing an appeal will cost additional monies for fees (up to $200) and “deposits”. This “deposit” will go to cover court costs if your appeal fails; however, if you are successful, it will be returned.

How Do I Collect the Judgment?

To put it simply, a small claims court cannot collect the money for you and they cannot ensure that it is must do this on your own. You can request clerk issue an execution which authorizes you to take the steps necessary to attach a debtor’s wages, nonexempt personal property or financial institution account.

The steps taken to collect a judgement may differ from state to state, so be sure you check to see what they are for your area and how long the judgment is good for. Judgments are usually in effect from 6 to 10 years.

What Steps Can I Take to Collect My Money?

There are several steps you can take to collect your money. The explanations of each can be found in our article entitled General Methods for Collecting Your Judgment on our Resources page.

  • Wage garnishment;
  • Bank garnishment;
  • Rent garnishment;
  • Levy on personal property;
  • Interrogatories; and,
  • Judgment lien against real property such as real estate.

Resources for
collecting your judgment

General Methods for Collecting Your Judgment

More judgement collection and judgment enforcement articles & resources

Article of the month

Bank Account Garnishment

What You Should Know
Before You File a Claim

Resolving Claims without Going to Court

Important Terms to Know

More pre-litigation articles and resources...

States—A Closer Look at Small Claims

This month’s focus: Michigan

All states

Document Samples

Collect Your Judgment Links

Small Claims Court Links to each State

Other Resources

Tip of the Week

September 27, 2010

If you have been awarded a judgment, waited the 30 days required, sent a demand letter giving the debtor a time limit for paying his/her debt; what should you do if you still have no money? You know that the court can do little, but before you take steps to garnish wages or bank accounts, consider suggesting negotiation or mediation if the debtor gives any impression that they want to settle the matter.

More tips...

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