By Cary Greenberg
If you are over 18 years old and are owed money, sustained property damage, did not receive the merchandise or service you paid for, and your claim is under $5,000, then you can go to Small Claims Court in your Judicial District to recoup your money. You do not need a lawyer! All you have to do is go to the District Court in your area, fill out the required forms, pay a nominal fee, and your case has begun. In fact, the Court will serve the person you are suing with the requisite papers.
Furthermore, many districts have night Court. So, if you’re unable to appear in Court during the day, then inquire whether Night Court is a viable option for you. In completing the requisite forms, please be aware that you can only sue for verifiable monetary damages. You cannot claim for speculative damages, such as pain, and suffering or the cost of your aggravation. If you are unsure how to complete the paperwork or what damages to claim, then a clerk in the Court will gladly guide you through the process.
Once in Court be ready to possibly discuss the case with a mediator in an attempt to settle your claim. If you refuse this option or are simply unable to settle your claim, then you will proceed to trial. At the time of trial, you will be sworn to tell the truth. You will be asked to tell your side of the story. It is strongly recommended that you present evidence to support your claim. For example: submit any contracts, leases, invoices, repair bills, photographs, emails, texts or anything else that will help prove your case. Similarly, bring any witnesses or experts with you to court to testify on your behalf. In most cases, an Affidavit from that witness will not be accepted so that live testimony will be required. This is especially relevant when an expert is needed to testify as to what was done improperly and the amount of damages that were sustained as a result of the defendant’s actions. Once you are finished presenting your case, then the defendant will be heard to present a defense. Often a judge will ask questions of both parties, so be prepared, know the facts and be respectful to the judge and your adversary.
Once the entire case is heard, the judge will usually reserve their decision, and within a few weeks, you will receive a decision in the mail. The bottom line, Small Claims Court, if available to you, is cheaper, quicker and more convenient than going to District or Supreme Court with a lawyer. If you have any questions regarding the Small Claims Court process please contact me. Good luck!