Wednesday, December 23, 2009

So You Have a Small CLaims Case? I Have Two Words For You.

The courts are choking with small claims cases (people demanding reimbursement under $5,000.00) brought by parties in dispute with the neighbor, the auto dealer, the furniture company, the floor contracter, the plumber, the dog walker, .... you fill in the blank. There are two very important words that must be remembered before you even bring the action, and they are: BE PREPARED.
Time and time again, I see litigants appear before the judge (which may be me) without any evidence to substantiate their claims. A small claims hearing is a mini trial. That means that you must show cause or reason for making your claim against the other party. As a defending party, you do not carry the burden of proof unless you are bringing a counterclaim. However, the defendant should "be prepared" if he/she wishes to refute any discrepancy in the claim or monies demanded. Even if the defendant does not appear for the trial, the claimant must still prove the claim. If you need a receipt, bring it; if you signed a contract, show it; if you need pictures, take them; if you have a witness, bring him or her along -- whatever will be necessary to show the judge that you are entitled to the amount you want reimbursed.
Remember, that small claims court is for money only, but the court will not pay you back for aggravation, emotional distress (unless there are related medical bills), or any other annoyances that have no monetary value. There may be other remedies for that - which is another topic of discussion.
What will happen if you come unprepared to court? The chances are quite good that you will lose your case - and you may never bring that same case against that same person(s) again. If you forgot any items that you think you may need for your case, you may request an adjournment for another trial date. So, whether or not you were a girl or boy scout, use their motto and BE PREPARED.