A large number of lawsuits that are brought across the nation do not involve millions or even thousands of dollars. Small claims courts were created precisely to deal with claims that fall below an amount set by each state's laws. Sometimes lawsuits are brought in these courts simply for "the principle" of the matter. These small claims courts are intended to provide a relatively inexpensive and quick way for litigants to resolve their legal disputes, and are frequently used to handle disputes involving contracts, landlords and tenants, and consumers. In FindLaw's Small Claims Court section, you can find an article providing a general overview of the steps to filing a lawsuit in a small claims court as well as information and resources related to small claims courts in each state.
How to File a Lawsuit in Small Claims Court
The specific procedure for filing a lawsuit in small claims court will depend on the laws of your county and/or state. Often times, courts' websites will provide helpful information on how to file a case in small claims courts. Some courts even offer "small claims advisors" who can answer simple procedural questions and guide you through the system, without any cost to you. It's important to be aware of the fact that some of the legal procedures are not present in a small claims case - such as discovery - there is still a statute of limitations for small claims. The statute of limitations means that the claim must be filed within a certain period of time after the incident that is determined by the laws of each state.
As previously mentioned, the procedure for a small claims lawsuit will depend on the jurisdiction, but there is a general procedure that a typical case follows. First, the plaintiff files a complaint, which is usually done on a form provided by the court, and often pays a filing fee. Once the complaint is filed with the court, the plaintiff is required to provide a copy of the complaint to the defendant in a manner that complies with state laws. Once the defendant receives a copy, he or she has a certain number of days to answer the complaint. If he or she fails to answer the complaint, the defendant will typically be considered in default, which means that he or she will be liable for the claim.
Hiring an Attorney
Some states and counties do not allow plaintiffs or defendants to be represented by an attorney in a small claims court. For this reason, it's important to check your local court rules before hiring an attorney for your small claims case. However, even if your local court requires that you represent yourself, you can typically consult with a litigation attorney if you have any questions related to your case. It may also be a good idea to contact a litigation attorney if you have questions about whether or not your case qualifies for small claims court, or if you're wondering how much you monetary damages you can seek for the type of harm you have suffered.