Small claims procedure is often simple and easy to understand. As a type of court that handles a specific set of cases, namely small monetary-value civil disputes, many of the more complex processes involved with regular civil or criminal courts are streamlined or eliminated from normal small claims procedure. Understanding the basic steps for small claim procedure can help a person prepare to file or participate in a small claims trial.
The first step in small claims procedure is called filing. A party to a suit fills out certain forms that explain the issue at hand, any damages sought, and the address and contact information for both parties. Proper forms for small claims court can be requested through the court clerk or found at local courthouses. Some forms may be available online, but be sure they apply to the specific region and court involved in the lawsuit.
When filing suit, one common small claims procedure a plaintiff may follow is to file a request for a specific amount of monetary damages. Most courts have a low limit maximum for damages, often under $5000 US Dollars (USD). Common reasons for damage requests include to pay for repairs or replace damaged or destroyed property, to settle rent disputes, or to compensate for physical or emotional injuries.
If the court accepts the lawsuit, a trial date will be set and all principal parties informed. During the period between acceptance and the trial, it is recommend that all involved parties build a case using available evidence. Experts advise seeking legal counsel to help build a case, but most small claims courts require parties to represent themselves in front of the court. One major exception is if a person is suing a corporation, a lawyer may represent the corporation.
Small claims procedure on the day of the trial will vary somewhat between different regions. Generally, the judge in charge of the trial will allow both parties to present evidence, including witness testimony, written documents, and pertinent photographs. If one party refuses to show up in court, it is common small claims procedure for the judge to issue a default decision, often deciding against the no-show party. After the evidence is presented, the judge will make his or her decision and award damages.
In some areas, the plaintiff cannot file an appeal of a small claims decision if he or she loses the case. The defendant may be able to file an appeal, in which case another trial in a higher court may be ordered. Most of the time, small claims court cases are settled peacefully, if not always amicably, by the judge's decision.