Alexa's Thoughts on Small Claims
We all can envision the crackling sound of the gavel for American news personality, Judge Judy, who settles real-life small claim disputes. Imagine the interesting characters in the simulated courtroom, arguing with one another over foolish, frivolous claims. However, this can very well be the reality of Small Claims Court. Many unrepresented parties often go into the court room ready to dispute their ill-prepared case in front of a judge. Constant bickering, fighting, and lack of knowledge regarding the law can make the overall experience for all parties, including the judge, awful. No wonder Judge Judy always seems to be a bad mood!
So, are small claims really worth pursuing? Well that depends on the circumstances. An eviction, which is settled in Small Claims Court, has the potential to cause detrimental effects on your credit score, which can prohibit or restrict your ability to rent in the future, buy a car, or even sign up for a credit card. All tenancy related claims will be set in Small Claims Court, so you don’t have much of a choice.
A lawsuit to recover $500 may be counterintuitive if you take in the costs for filing legal documents, not to mention the time and process involved in obtaining the money. You may get a judgment, but collecting it is a whole different ball game. In the end, you may end up with the $500, but have only gained a net profit of $100 or so, if you’re lucky. Keep in mind that although Small Claims is a quicker, less tedious process than a traditional court, it still may be months, even a year, before a case is settled and a final verdict is decided by the judge.
It is a tough decision deciding if you may want to sue, however, if you decide to do so, there are some steps that must be followed to accurately begin the process.
Small Claims Court does not exceed $15,000 excluding costs, interest, and attorney’s fees. If the costs exceed this amount you may still sue in small claims, but you forfeit the right to recover amounts above $15,000. One can, but is not limited to, suing an individual, corporation, a partnership or entity operating with a fictitious name, foreclosure, or eviction. One does not need to be represented by an attorney and may represent themselves, however, it is always wise to consult an attorney, even if the attorney does not “formally” represent you.
It is also important to note that fees are attached to filing documents through the court system. Filing fees can cost between $55 to $300 depending on the amount of the claim. In Palm Beach County, you can access the Self Service Center which can provide access to an attorney for a nominal charge, solely for the purpose of providing procedural advice, and not as your legal representative. Because filling fees may add up as the case moves forward, it is important to ask yourself “Have I tried all possible and/or reasonable means to reach a settlement?”, “Do I have, or am I able to obtain, the necessary evidence to prove my claim?”, and “Do I know the correct legal name and the address of the defendant?”. If you can confidently answer these questions with a yes, then filing in small claims may be an option for you.
While Small Claims Court is a faster paced and somewhat simplified version compared to the traditional court system, the process may still be complicated. Therefore, the aid of an attorney may be useful. If you are suing just to make a point, or to be told you are the right one in this situation, then be prepared to for the expense, stress and additional burdens that will come with it. Otherwise, it may be a smart decision to just let go of the claim and move on.
Furthermore, with the help of an attorney, many disputes that would go to the courtroom, have the potential to mediated beforehand. A successful mediation may save both parties a substantial amount of time, stress and money. Mediations in small claims cases are relatively inexpensive.
With all that information, would it still be worth it? I can’t answer this for you. Each situation deserves the care and consideration before it is filed. Best advice is to at least call and get a free consultation with an attorney before hauling off to court.