Plumbing issues can range from merely irritating to catastrophic. Sewer backups, septic failures, or burst pipes can all be a headache. And if your plumbing problem is caused or exacerbated by a plumber, you may wonder if you have legal options.
Below, we discuss how to sue a plumber in small claims court and what you can do to create the strongest possible claim.
Plumbing issues are exhausting to fix, especially if your plumber made a mistake.
Common Plumbing Errors and Problems
Plumbers are trained to diagnose and fix a broad range of plumbing problems. However, plumbers can make mistakes. And mistakes that involve your water and waste systems can quickly become serious problems. Some of the most common plumbing issues include:
- Slow draining in sinks and showers
- Constantly running toilet
- Gurgling drains
- Discolored or deteriorating paint (which can be a sign of leaking inside the walls)
- Low water pressure
- Water backing up in downstairs drains or showers
- Plumber did not show and caused further damages
- Other types of Plumbing Negligence
There are many possible causes of these plumbing issues. Maybe tree roots grew into the water supply pipes, or even drains clogged with grease. If a plumber misdiagnoses the cause of your issue, you could end up with more damage.
And while the plumber may not be responsible for any damage that occurred before they arrived, they may be legally responsible for negligence if their actions (or inaction) caused further damage.
How to Sue Plumber in a Small Claims Court
Before deciding whether to sue your plumber in small claims court, you'll need to evaluate a few factors. These include the strength of your case, the total amount of financial damages you're seeking, and your ability to collect these damages.
To recover damages against a plumber for negligence, you'll need to prove three things:
- The plumber owed you a duty of reasonable care;
- The plumber breached this duty; and
- This breach caused you financial damages.
If you can prove all three of these elements by a preponderance of the evidence, you should be able to prevail.
Next, you'll need to show your damages so the court can calculate your judgment. Often, these cases settle before a hearing. You'll still want to calculate your damages. Then it will be easier to decide whether to accept or reject the settlement. Proving damages can involve gathering invoices, seeking repair quotes, or providing bank or credit card statements.
Finally, you'll need to collect your judgment. If your case has settled, you'll usually sign a settlement agreement giving up your right to sue the defendant in the future in exchange for a specific amount of money. The settlement agreement will often set out the terms and timeline for payment. If the defendant doesn't abide by the settlement agreement terms, you should be able to petition the trial court for enforcement.
If a trial court awards you a judgment, collecting on this judgment can be an entirely new process. You may need to file proceedings supplemental, seeking information from the defendant that will allow you to garnish their payments or place a lien on their assets. If the defendant's business declares bankruptcy or goes out of business, you might find it tough to collect. It's important to file proceedings supplemental as soon as possible after a judgment.
Creating a Strong Case to File In Court
Every plumber case is different, but there are a few things you can do (both before and during litigation) to create a stronger case.
A written contract or scope of work agreement can help boost your claim. If you're able to show that the plumber violated an agreed-on term or condition of your contract and can point to damages stemming from this violation, you should have a strong case.
Even if you don't have a plumbing contract, you may be able to support your case by providing lots of photos of the damage and any aftermath. Photos showing the problems can be valuable evidence in small claims court.
Although you don't need an attorney to file a small claims lawsuit, it may be helpful to consult one if you're planning to sue your plumber for negligence. Plumbing problems and repairs can be complex, and it may be tough to prove your case if you don't have an attorney on your side. Your attorney can gather evidence, interview expert witnesses, and take the other steps needed to ensure you have the strongest possible claim.
If you decide not to consult with an attorney, you can file a claim against the plumber by yourself. You can check out an online small claims filing service. With the help of these services, filing can be easy and fast.
At Dispute, the small claims filing process is made easy and affordable through our app. Instead of managing all of the paperwork, court dates, and filing on top of your regular responsibilities, let our experts take care of it for you. All you have to do is check your user dashboard for updates on your case. Our tools make it easy to manage the details for any state and county. All you need to do is put together evidence and show up for your day in court.
How Much it Costs
So how much will you spend by suing in small claims court?
- Court Filing Fees: The amount you will pay to file a small claims lawsuit depends on how much you are suing for and where you are suing. You can expect to pay between $30 to $400 to file the lawsuit. If you cannot afford to pay court fees, you can ask the court to waive the fees.
- Serving Costs: Once the lawsuit is filed, you must notify the other party that you have sued them. This is called "serving." Serving Costs can range from $20-100 depending on the local area.
The Benefits of Small Claims Court
- Court filing fees are cheaper in small claims than in other courts.
- The process is faster in small claims than in other courts, as your hearing will usually be scheduled 30-70 days after you file the lawsuit.
- Lawyers are generally not allowed in small claims, which helps keep the costs of suing low.
Ready to Start
If all of this work seems complicated or daunting, rest assured that it's easier than it initially seems. 2.7 million small claims court cases are filed annually in the US, which is only growing as more people realize how easy it is to enforce their legal rights in court.