Is Small Claims Court Your Best Option?
Small claims court is a place to settle cases that involve small amounts of money. In California, the maximum settlement allowed is $10,000. If you have been wronged or feel like someone has taken advantage of you, this is the place to settle your case. In many instances, taking this route is the best way to resolve your dispute without an extensive legal battle.
Examples of Cases Heard in Small Claims Court
To be sure, not every case is ideal for this type of court. However, it is important to recognize the instances when a person should pursue this type of suit.
- A landlord refused to return your security deposit.
- Someone damaged your vehicle and refused to pay.
- You allowed a friend to borrow cash. This person refused to pay it back.
- Your tenant damaged your rental property in an amount that is over the initial security deposit.
Most of these cases are heard within a short period of time. You should not wait more than 70 days after the incident was filed for your hearing to scheduled.
Is This the Best Option?
Individuals may have doubts about these types of cases. However, a high amount of disputes may be settled through mediation. Certain entities may resolve issues through local consumer affairs offices. Before starting a case, you should determine if the other party is legally responsible. If laws are in your favor, a judge will uphold them. If laws are not on your side, you may still feel like you deserve some type of justice. Going to small claims court may give you a favorable result.
It is important to understand that you must make time to prepare for your hearing. You will need to gather evidence, prepare witnesses, and personally attend the proceeding. After the judgment is made, you may need to spend your own money enforcing the ruling. Most people agree that enforcement is the most challenging part of this type of court case.
Unlike other types of hearings, a small claims case can’t be appealed. In other words, when you lose, that is the end of the case. However, the defendant has the right to appeal.
Can You Settle a Dispute Alone?
Before heading to court, you and the defendant should attempt to resolve the dispute. Both sides may be able to save much time and money. In many instances, the guilty party will be open to negotiation. For example, if a person owes you for a damaged item, you may offer to accept a lower monetary settlement. Also, you may wish to be flexible with payback. If the guilty party is willing to settle and pay the debt, you can allow him or her to submit the money in weekly or monthly payments.
Can Mediation Work?
During mediation, a third-party listens to both sides and attempts to help the defendant and the plaintiff find their own solution. In this way, the people involved can peacefully mend their relationship. Therefore, it is ideal for family members and friends.
Best Way to Present a Small Claims Case to a Judge
To repeat, this kind of case requires time and effort. You must gather essential documentation, which acts as evidence. This may include written letters, estimates for repairs, pictures, warranties, contracts, and similar items. As a tip, it is best to submit copies of original documents to the judge. Another copy should be available for the other party as well. Since a judge overseeing these cases may consider information that is not allowed in other courtrooms, you should bring any and all documents that are pertinent to the case.
Most times, these types of cases do not require witness testimony. However, there are times when a witness will be the only way to provide support or proof that the other party is responsible. If a witness is not available to appear in court, you should have him or her write a declaration to the state of California. This document should be notarized. Sometimes, expert testimony will be helpful. When a witness does not want to appear in court, it may be necessary to have a subpoena issued.
Hearing Before a Temporary Judge
Since the court system is overcrowded, many cases are often heard by temporary judges. This is an attorney who has practiced law for 10 years, has volunteered to oversee certain hearings, and has completed a special training program.
When your hearing arrives, you will need to consent that a temporary judge is deciding your case. If you do not agree, you have the right for a regular judge to oversee the proceedings.
Presenting the Case
Explaining courtroom procedures is the first thing done by the judge or court representative. Likely, you’ll be in a space with multiple cases. Everyone will be given an oath to tell the truth. Cases are not called in the order that is listed on the calendar. Therefore, you should be prepared at any point.
When your name is called, both parties and witnesses should step forward by the judge. Usually, the plaintiff goes first. You’ll have time to explain your case and the dispute. During this time, you should present all of your evidence and witnesses to the judge. Sometimes, a judge asks questions. It is wise to begin with the primary issue of the case and expand with details. You should remain polite and respectful at all times. You should speak directly to the judge. Everything that you state should be the complete truth. If you are asking for a specific settlement amount, you should be prepared to explain how this figure was determined. When it comes time for the other party to present his or her side of the case, you must listen without interruption.
Asking for Court Costs
Presenting this kind of case is not free. Therefore, if you are the suing party, you should request an award for court costs. It is wise to keep receipts that document filing fees and other related expenses. Without being compensated, you can expect to pay some hefty out-of-pocket costs.
Small Claims Personal Injury Cases in California
Personal injury cases can be major or minor. For instance, you may have fallen down your neighbor’s rickety front steps, which resulted in a twisted ankle. Since the injury was not serious or costly, you may opt to settle the premise liability case through a small claims lawsuit. Another example would be suing for vehicle damages under $10,000.
No matter the case, it must be proven that one party showed negligence and caused the other person to suffer injury or property damage. The case must be filed in the proper county as well.
How a Trusted Attorney Can Help with Your Personal Injury Case
Although most small claims courts do not allow lawyers, you may still find it helpful to consult with a legal professional before filing a lawsuit. A trusted attorney will be able to help you gather evidence and offer advice. Also, this person has great experience and understands the court process. This individual will know where to file the case as well. Also, counsel will explain the statue of limitations. In California, a person has two years from the date of the injury to file a personal injury lawsuit.
The JT Legal Group proudly represents personal injury victims. Our entire team wants to see innocent victims recover adequate compensation for others’ negligent behavior. Even when you are filing a small claims case, you may greatly benefit from the expertise of our attorneys. For more information, call us at 888-529-3111.