Court proceedings aren’t always about answering for broken laws and contesting misdemeanor or felony charges. A decent percentage of court cases settle civil disputes between individuals or businesses involving two parties known as a plaintiff and defendant.
Small claims court allows these two parties to resolve minor monetary disputes and reach a decisive outcome regarding the amount (or lack) of compensation. In stark contrast to criminal cases, small claims cases are straightforward and usually take less than an hour.
It seems simple enough but obtaining a favorable outcome during these civil proceedings is easier with the proper knowledge and strategy. These are five things you might not know about small claims court.
5 Things About Small Claims Court You Might Be Aware Of
Preparation is vital during any court proceedings, especially small claims litigation. During a small window, all information central to the case must be prepared efficiently for presentation. Using the following tips and key points should help you prepare for small claims matters.
Settle your dispute with a demand letter
Demand letters have an 85% success rate
You may get to choose who hears your case - a judge or an arbitrator
In some states, you choose between a judge hearing your case or using the services of an arbitrator. Many arbitration hearings are faster, and they’re usually less formal.
However, the most significant difference is the ability to appeal. When a judge rules on a case, an appeal always exists as a potential recourse for an undesirable result. Cases heard under arbitration are final.
If you win, it can take up to 20 years to get repaid
When the judge rules against either party and forces repayment, this judgment usually is enforceable for twenty years. Depending on your state’s enforcement arm (sheriff, enforcement officer, collection agency), wages may be garnished from the at-fault party’s paycheck.
States have different monetary demand limits
Specific rules outline the ability to file a small claims case. In all states, there are maximum limits for how much you can demand in small claims court. When the amount exceeds this limit, you must file in general civil court.
You can appeal in small claims court
After a judge’s ruling, it is possible to appeal a decision. However, a great deal of small claims courts appeals is unsuccessful
It's best not to ignore an information subpoena
Don’t ignore an information subpoena. Technically you can’t be arrested for not appearing in small claims court. However, judgments rendered against you that require information regarding your wages and assets come in the form of information subpoenas. Ignoring these can lead to jail time and a new contempt charge.
Small claims court cases exist to make simple, non-criminal matters a straightforward, nearly automated process. However, this doesn’t mean the plaintiff always walks off with a quick win.
Regardless of whether you find yourself on the plaintiff or defendant end of things, it’s essential to be prepared. Whenever you complete a transaction with another party, always keep a detailed record. In most small claim cases, the party with financial documentation often walks as the victor.