Those unfamiliar with legal principles may think of Common Law strictly in terms of corporate lawsuits and commercial law. If that's case, you may wonder what in the world "small claims disputes" are, who would be eligible to file such claims, under what circumstances one might pursue such claims, what the legal framework is, and why they might be worth your time? Well, let's break it down.
Small Claims Court is generally known as a place for the individual layperson or company to resolve their personal or business legal matters at a faster pace, at reduced costs, and without needing legal counsel. Indeed, one is generally not required to hire the services of an attorney to resolve small claims disputes. This branch of the Small Claims Court is know as Pro Se ("for oneself"). As such, a individual who chooses to represent themself requires only a certain level of legal knowledge and the necessary documentation to go to court. Though it varies by state, a cap of $10,000 is generally placed on the amount of monetary damages that can be claimed.
- Who (is eligible)?
Any plaintiff (person, corporation, or government) is eligible to sue a defendant (person, corporation, or government), provided the monetary cap is respected. If the plaintiff cannot prove that the damages he/she is suing for are within the court's state jurisdiction, the case will not be brought into Small Claims Court.
What type of case would you sue for in Small Claims Court? The list includes, but is not limited to, the following:
- breach of contract
- property damage
- personal injury
- all evictions (in some states, regardless of the amount of rent claimed)
- Security deposit return
- property repossessions
- enforcing debts owed
Generally speaking, any situation that leads one to incur undue costs, or to be owed money, warrants a case being taken up in Small Claims Court.
- Where (legal context)?
In order to sue someone in Small Claims Court, you should have a minimum of familiarity with the overarching legal framework and the jurisdiction in which you are filing said lawsuit. As stated above, the maximum monetary amount that may be filed for varies depending on your state jurisdiction. Additionally, each state Small Claims Court requires a specific list of documents to be filed and presented. Familiarizing yourself with your state's Small Claims Court system may be useful. If you would like to learn more about your state jurisdiction, you can visit a legal advice website.
Why should you feel concerned by small claims disputes, and why would filing such a dispute be worth your time? First of all, Small Claims Court is accessible to everyone, from individuals to corporate entities, meaning that anyone is entitled to sue within the monetary parameters. As previously explained, Small Claims Court serves as a one-stop shop for a variety of legal cases one may run up against. Because this type of court is not a niche reserved for a certain type of legal infraction, again, anyone can sue. As the maximum amount for eviction cases is nonexistent in some states, landlords should have a very strong incentive to file their eviction claim in Small Claims Court. Finally, Small Claims Court has proved to be cheaper, quicker, and generally more efficient than the traditional litigation system. This should encourage you to think twice about how you want to file your lawsuit.
There's always a 'but'
Despite the obvious perks of going to Small Claims Court, very often it follows the trend of other legal entities when it comes to simplicity, or lack thereof. The word "efficient" is used to compare Small Claims Court procedures to standard legal procedures, relatively speaking. Indeed, though the former may be a step up from the latter, it remains a procedure that may require hours of your time in filing claims, searching the appropriate jurisdictional requirements, completing paperwork, and this is all before the court hearing date is set.
Thankfully, the recent rise in Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR), combined with Information and Communication Technology (ICT), has brought a new and invaluable tool to the table: Online Dispute Resolution (ODR). This digitized version of the Small Claims Court has tremendous potential to radically simplify the litigation system, reducing unnecessary wait times, and providing you with expert advice in record time, and at reduced costs. Though Small Claims Court is an already great alternative to other legal courts, filing your small claims dispute using ODR might just be your ticket to handling these irritating situations in exactly the amount of time you should have to worry about them: barely any time at all.