So you believe you have a small legal claim. Perhaps it involves a few hundred dollars or maybe even a few thousand dollars. So now what? Should you hire a lawyer? What will a lawyer cost? Should you file a claim on your own or is it complicated? Do you need a legal background to file a claim? These are all very common and quite logical questions to ask. So, here are a few things you "need to know" about proceeding with a small claims case.
WHAT IS SMALL CLAIMS COURT?
Small claims court is actually a division of your local district court. It handles certain simple cases, and can only award up to $5,500 in damages. Most typically, claims involve the recovery of money or disputes over a contract.
CAN I HAVE A LAWYER?
There are no lawyers or jury trials in small claims cases. Plaintiffs and defendants must represent themselves in hearings in front of judges or magistrates. However, if the defendant wants an attorney, the defendant can demand that the claim be removed from the small claims court to the general civil division of the district court. If the case is removed to the general civil division of the court, both parties may retain an attorney.
WHAT DOES IT COST?
You must pay the filing fee when you file your claim. The filing fee is based on how much money is being claimed for damages. You can ask for a suspension of the fees if you cannot afford them. The filing fees are as follows:
- $25 for a damage claim up to $600;
- $45 for a damage claim more than $600 up to $1,750; and,
- $65 for more than $1,750 up to $5,500
WHAT FORMS DO I FILE?
The form that must be filed is called an Affidavit and Claim (SCAO Form D84). The actual form, along with full instructions for filling out the form, can be found in the following link:
WHO CAN FILE A CLAIM?
An Affidavit and Claim can be signed and filed by someone other than the plaintiff. The plaintiff can be yourself if you are suing as an individual or a sole proprietor (sole owner of a business). If you are not the plaintiff, but you are filing the claim for a sole proprietorship (a business owned by one person), corporation, or other organization, you must meet the following conditions:
- If you are filing for an individual and you are not that individual, you must be the individual's guardian, conservator, or next friend.
- If you are filing for a sole proprietor (sole owner of a business) and you are not the owner, you must be a full-time salaried employee of the sole proprietor and you must have knowledge of the facts in the claim.
- If you are filing for a partnership, you must be one of the partners or you must be a full-time salaried employee of the partnership and you must have knowledge of the facts in the claim.
- If you are filing for a corporation, you must be a full-time salaried employee of the corporation and you must have knowledge of the facts in the claim.
- If you are filing for a county, city, village, township, or local or intermediate school district, you must be an elected or appointed officer or employee of the county, city, village, township, or local or intermediate school district who has knowledge of the facts surrounding the claim and who is authorized by the governing body of the county, city, village, township, or local or intermediate school district to file the claim.
HOW DO I FILE THE CLAIM?
You can file the affidavit and claim with the court in person or by mail. You must pay the filing fees and service fees at the same time you file the affidavit and claim. Service fees can cost as little as $5 for certified mail or as much as $21 plus mileage for personal service for each defendant. When the filing is received, the clerk will record the filing of the claim, assign a case number, and write the name of the district court judge or district court attorney magistrate assigned to the case on all copies of the affidavit and claim form. The clerk will complete the notice of hearing.
The clerk will keep the original of the affidavit and claim for the court file, and will make arrangements to serve one copy on each defendant as you have instructed and paid, either by personal delivery or by certified mail, return receipt requested and deliverable to the addressee only. After serving the claim, the clerk will return the remaining copy of the form to you.
HOW DO I PREPARE FOR TRIAL?
It is important to produce any and all evidence for the Judge or Magistrate that you believe you will need to prove your case. Be concise and to the point. A letter or affidavit from a witness may be accepted as evidence by the court without the witness being physically present at the trial, but it is always better if you have the witness actually appear in court. If a particular witness is unwilling to appear, you may request the clerk of the court to issue an order to appear (subpoena), requiring the witness to appear at the trial. The order to appear must be served on the witness (along with any witness fee) well in advance of the trial. You can pay the clerk of the court to make arrangements for service of this order.
Again, for additional helpful tips and assistance on preparation for a small claims matter please visit the following link:
As always, if you have any further questions regarding the above, or require any other type of legal assistance, please do not hesitate to contact us at any time for an absolutely free and completely confidential consultation.
The information contained herein is for information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice, and does NOT establish an attorney-client relationship with the Law Offices of Freedman & Freedman, PLLC.