If you are a Florida resident involved in a dispute about money with an individual or a business, justice may not be out of reach. Many people avoid pursuing litigation that's potentially winnable because of the expenses associated with retaining an attorney and filing litigation.
The good news is that justice does not have to be delayed or denied if you use the Florida small claims court system.
How Do I Know Where to File?
In most cases, you'll need to file your small claims court lawsuit with the court having jurisdiction over the defendant's residence (as an individual) or where the company is located (if suing a business). However, in some cases, filing with the court where you live could be appropriate.
Below are some other guidelines about where to file:
- If a contract was involved, file where the contract was signed and validated
- When recovering property or foreclosing on liens, the location of said property
- For promissory notes (unsecured), either where the maker lives or where the note was signed
- Location of event that generated the lawsuit
- Locations stipulated in contract for litigation
- Location of where money shall be paid
- For NSF checks, location of bank refusing payment
If you remain unsure, you can always seek legal guidance to ensure it is the proper venue before filing.
What Forms Do I Need?
This and other questions can often be answered at the small claims court itself or at the civil division of the Clerk of Court’s office of the location where you will file.
There are different Statement of Claims for:
- Accidents, bad checks, general litigation, money lent but not repaid, and promissory notes
- Corporate authorizations
- Replevin claims
- Notice of Dismissal
- Affidavit of Amount Due after Stipulations
- Satisfaction of Judgment
- Answer and Counterclaims
- Motions to Continue
- Other general Motions
- Exhibits regarding personal service for out-of-state defendants
If you require a form you don’t see available online or at the courthouse, ask a court staffer.
What Are the Questions I Will Need to Answer?
For your lawsuit to prevail, you will need to provide the plaintiff’s (you or your company) name, telephone number, and address and the same for the defendant.
Be prepared to describe your cause of action briefly, i.e., your reason for suing this individual or company. You must also state the amount you are suing for and include any proof.
What Are Some Best Practices When Filling Out Forms?
One of the most important factors to prevail in small claims court is ensuring that your defendant gets properly served with the petition and that proof of said service is included in your lawsuit.
What Happens After I File?
After filing the petition, the defendant is served. Then, the court sets a date for a pretrial conference. Some cases settle during the pretrial conference and others get referred to mediation. If neither effort concludes the case, it proceeds to trial on its merits.
How Long Does It Take?
Most small claims cases conclude within weeks. Others may take a couple of months to resolve.
What Happens if I Make a Mistake?
You can amend your petition to fix any mistakes you may make.
What Do I Do if I Don't Know the Answer?
Small claims can be dismissed for using the wrong name of people or companies. This website can identify the proper names. Otherwise, call the Florida Secretary of State at (850) 488-9000 to get the company’s legal name and the name and address of the registered agent for service of process.
How Does the Process Vary Across Counties?
While the small claims court processes are quite similar throughout the Sunshine State, there can be local rules that apply and that must be followed when filing a lawsuit in small claims court.
How Much Can I Sue For?
Under present laws here in Florida, small claims are capped at $8,000. Any damages above that amount must be pursued in the county civil court.
What Do I Need to Do Before Filing a Small Claim?
All claims must be preceded by a demand letter wherein you detail what damage was done to you and the dollar amount that will make you whole again, to the degree that is possible.