From defective merchandise to credit card fraud, false advertising, or unauthorized membership renewals, there are many reasons you may consider filing a lawsuit against an internet company. But when it comes to suing an internet-based business, where should you start? Below, we discuss how to sue an internet company in small claims court and how an online small claims filing service can help streamline the process.
Doing business with an internet company can get tricky, so it is helpful to learn what to do if something went wrong.
How Can You Sue an Internet Company in Small Claims Court?
You can sue an online company just as you can sue a physical business for a face-to-face dispute you've had. However, there are a few extra wrinkles when suing an online company—most notably, where to file. Not every court has jurisdiction over every dispute, and filing in the "wrong" court could result in the dismissal of your claim.
Though we'll discuss more on jurisdiction below, these are the basic prerequisites for suing an online company in small claims court:
- You and the company entered into an agreement (written or not) to provide goods and/or services in exchange for money.
- The company breached this agreement (for example, by failing to provide the agreed-upon goods or services, for providing defective merchandise, by charging you too much, or by taking some other action)
- As a result of this breach, you suffered financial damages.
If you can answer "yes" to each of these criteria, you may have grounds to bring a legal claim against the online company.
Where Should You File Your Small Claims Lawsuit?
To sue someone in your local small claims court, you'll need to establish that the court has jurisdiction over the defendant. "Jurisdiction" refers to the power to resolve a legal claim involving that defendant. If the online company is located in-state, you should be able to sue in a state court.
However, it is more complicated if the company is located in another state. To sue in your state, you'll have to establish that the person or business regularly conducts business over the internet with residents of your state. "Regularly doing business" can include, but isn't limited to:
- Advertising or soliciting business in your state
- Having a registered agent for service of process in your state
- Having any offices or employees located in your state
- Conducting direct sales over the internet
- Sending employees or agents to your state to conduct business
If you're able to answer "yes" to some of these questions, you may be able to sue an online business locally.
However, there is one exception. If, during business with the internet company, you signed or clicked "yes" on a "Terms and Conditions" agreement that governs where any lawsuit may be brought, you may be forced to adhere to these conditions. Some terms and conditions will require any disputes to be submitted to arbitration or filed in the online company's home state.
How to File a Small Claim
If you're able to sue the internet company locally, you may be able to find the forms and documents you need at your local small claims court. But often, it makes more sense to use an online small claims filing service. This can allow you to easily file a claim, whether you're litigating it in your state or elsewhere, and takes much of the guesswork out of the process.
Although small claims proceedings are more informal than most civil court proceedings, they can still be tricky to navigate for those who don't have litigation experience. Filing your small claim by using an online service can give you detailed, step-by-step instructions on what to do and what to expect.