Consumer Law

Small Claims Court Requirements Vary by State

Small claims courts are set up to handle certain types of cases quickly and inexpensively compared with lawsuits filed in other types of courts. If someone claims that you owe money, or if you're suing someone to get money that's owed to you, you may find yourself in small claims court. Small claims court is designed so you can represent yourself. Some states let you have a lawyer represent you in small claims court. You always can consult a lawyer for advice beforehand.

Small Claims Courts Handle Only Certain Types of Cases

Each state has its own laws about small claims courts. Check with your local courthouse about the dollar limits and types of cases allowed. In Kentucky, for example, the dollar limit is $1,500. In Wisconsin, it is $25,000 for certain types of cases. Small claims courts typically handle disputes over consumer contracts, debt collections, and landlord-tenant disputes.

Follow the Rules When Filing a Lawsuit

Individuals and businesses may file lawsuits in small claims court. You file the lawsuit in the county or precinct where the other party lives or does business. Fill out the required petition, present it to the clerk at the courthouse, and pay a filing fee. Arrange for a sheriff or process server to deliver a copy of the paperwork to the other party. The court will notify you when a hearing has been scheduled.

File a Written Answer if You Are Sued

If you are sued, read the documents carefully and file a written response within the deadline stated. Otherwise, the court may hold a hearing without you. If you believe that the other party owes you money, rather than vice-versa, you might want to counter-sue. While you wait for the hearing date, you may try to settle the case with the other party through mediation, a process that involves a neutral third party to help you talk through the dispute.

Prepare for Your Hearing

When you go to court, you need to bring original documents such as receipts, canceled checks, contracts, payment records, letters, and photos that support your case. Witnesses can also be helpful. On the day of the hearing, you should wear conservative clothes and be on time. Answer the judge's questions clearly and honestly, stay calm, and be polite. If the judge orders one party to pay money to the other, that party must either pay or file an appeal with the court.

A Consumer Lawyer Can Help

The law surrounding small claims court is complicated. Plus, the facts of each case are unique. This article provides a brief, general introduction to the topic. For more detailed, specific information, please contact a consumer law lawyer.

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