What Factors Determine a Small Claims Amount?

Tamsen Butler

The person bringing a legal matter before a court decides on the small claims amount, but this is not an amount that should simply be estimated based on how much money the claimant wants. Factors to consider when deciding on a small claims amount include how much money is needed to recover from tangible losses as well as other financial damages such as lost wages. Claimants can also sue for the amount of money used to bring the claim to court. It is also important to remember that courts typically set the maximum amount of money that can be sought by a claimant, so any amount sought must be below this maximum amount.

Businessman with a briefcase
Businessman with a briefcase

The primary amount of money a claimant should consider when deciding on the small claims amount is the actual amount of money needed to fix the primary issue. For example, if a person seeks compensation for a minor auto accident, the primary amount may include the amount of money needed to repair the car back to how it operated before the accident. Broken contracts are also commonly handled in small claims court. For example, if a pianist is paid ahead of time to play music at a wedding ceremony but does not show up, the claimant's primary monetary claim would be the amount the pianist had been paid.

Other financial damages can be considered as well, but only if the claimant can prove the amounts. Using the example of the auto accident, if the claimant has to rent a car to get back and forth to work because the car is in the shop for repairs, the amount of the rental car usually can be added to the small claims amount. Intangible claims, such as emotional distress, can be nearly impossible to prove. In general, claimants should only include these amounts into the total amount if there is some way to demonstrate an actual monetary loss or expense.

Filing a claim in court costs money, and this amount typically can be included in the total amount sought by the claimant as well. If an attorney is consulted, the fees associated with the consultation may also be included. Claimants should keep records of all these expenses when adding them to the total small claims amount. Documentation is quite important when attempting to convince a judge that something was a viable expense related to the claim.

Claimants also must be careful to set the small claims amount within the maximum allowable amount set by the court. Exceeding this amount can cause the case to be moved to a different kind of court, which may involve significant additional legal expenses. It is generally ill-advised to inflate amounts in an effort to get more money than what is reasonable.

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