When to Consider Small Claims Court
Most Small Claims Courts have jurisdictional limits. That is, the Small Claims Courts will only accept cases in which the damages sued for are less than a certain amount. Contact your local Small Claims Court Clerk to make sure you are within the limit.
If your case has actual damages over the Jurisdictional Limit, you should definitely consider bringing your lawsuit in either Municipal or Superior Court, depending upon the type of case and the amount of damages which you have sustained.
Most states allow a person to represent themselves in any case. In Small Claims Court, where the evidence and discovery rules are strictly enforced, any person not familiar with these rules runs a serious risk of having their entire action dismissed if these rules are not followed. Unless it is absolutely necessary, a person should not represent themselves in either of these forums. A lawyer understands the nature of the system, and can be of great assistance in these types of matters. You are advised to follow the steps in this guide to help prevent problems, rather than trying to represent yourself once a legal problem has arisen.
Also, consider Small Claims Court when your claim is just above the limit and you want to accept the loss instead of paying attorney fees. For example, the limit is $2,500 and your claim is $3,000. Instead of paying an attorney in another court which will cost money and maybe a delay in receiving the money due to court back logs, you could ask a Small Claims Court Judge to reward you the maximum $2,500 and receive your money faster without paying attorney fees.
Your claim must also be proper matter for Small Claims Court. Contact Member Services or your Plan Attorney to be sure. Examples of proper matter include:
- Property damage accidents with no injuries may easily be resolved in Small Claims Court, so long as the damages do not exceed the jurisdictional limits of the Small Claims Court.
- If you are seeking to enforce performance or to restrain performance you are usually in the wrong court.
- Actual personal injury cases, even if minor, ought to be discussed with your Plan Attorney before deciding to sue in Small Claims Court. The damages recoverable in such cases usually involve some past and future pain and the damage amounts may add up to exceed the jurisdictional limits of the Small Claims Court quite rapidly.
- Improper matter include martial disputes and divorces, child custody and support issues, real estate matters involving significant amounts of property, bankruptcy, cases involving actual personal injuries, criminal acts, probates, or matters seeking injunctions or similar relief, such as TRO (Temporary Restraining Orders)
Certain other limitations will prevent you from winning your case:
- Statute of Limitations
- Each state specifies the time during which an action may be brought to court, so as to preserve evidence and to give people an expectation after the expiration of a specific period of time that they will not be sued. Consult with a lawyer as to your claim and the appropriate Statute of Limitations since it varies state to state. The Statute of Limitations is an affirmative defense, and usually must be raised by the defendant.
- Statute of Frauds
- Each state specifies certain limitations on specific types of contracts. Also, certain states require that oral contracts be in writing if the amount of the contract is more than a certain amount, for example $500.00. These are complicated issues and usually an attorney should be consulted.
- Punitive Damages
- Punitive damages are damage awards designed to punish certain intentional conduct by a defendant and set an example of that defendant. Many Small Claims Court judges are reluctant to make large punitive damage awards.
- If you think you may have a good case for punitive damages, and they are likely to be awarded, it would be advisable to consult with your Plan Attorney to evaluate your claim. Remember, just because you are outraged by a person's conduct does not mean that this constitutes a punitive damage case.
- Stress Damages
- Most states strictly limit the amount of damages that a person can recover for becoming upset by a legal problem. It is easy to understand why almost all legal problems are upsetting.
- There must be specific, identifiable medical treatment for such stress, in order to recover such stress-related damages in most cases.
When in doubt, feel free contact your plan attorney or member services. We’re here to help!