How To Know When It’s Time To Go To Small Claims Court

By | September 8, 2011

The country’s justice system is set up to ensure both fairness and security. The problem is that sometimes, what’s fair is not necessarily…well, all that big of a deal.

But even small claims might mean a great deal to you. That’s why small claims courts can be great ways to ensure that you receive justice, even if you’ve only been wronged to the tune of several hundred dollars.

After all, several hundred dollars might not mean much to the state but it might still mean a lot to you. Determining whether or not you should actually use small claims court to find justice, however, is another question entirely. By the end of this article, you should have the answer to that question.

When Do Cases Go to Small Claims?

Every state justice department is different, and since small claims are not a federal issue, this means that you’re going to see different laws and regulations governing the small claims systems depending on where you live. Some states have small claims up to around $1,500 while others count anything up to $10,000 as a small claim. Before you even consider whether or not to go to small claims court, it’s a good idea to check up on your local state laws and see whether or not you even have a “small claim.” It’s entirely possible that your case is bigger than that.

Typically, any case in which you’re suing for money or for a small piece of property can go to small claims court. If you believe that you’ve been underpaid for a project that you were supposed to be paid $1,000 for, for example, then your claim will likely be an ideal case for small claims court. People suing for more money and more damages will obviously skirt the small claims court system and go straight to the regular court proceedings.

Potential Risks With Small Claims

One of the biggest factors for determining whether or not you should go to small claims court over a case is how likely you think you are to actually win your money back. In many cases, a judge can only order the defendant to pay the small claim – the judge won’t actually force collection. Even if it sounds unfair, many of these small claims cases end up being a waste of time for the plaintiff, especially as they spend more and more time on the case and the collection of the money.

If you’re not sure whether to go to small claims, then you’ll have to be sure that you need the money and that small claims is the way for you to get that money. You could always have a lawyer handle much of the business for you, but since lawyers need to get paid, too, that means an additional expense is being paid simply to earn you back the money you’re already owed.

Avoiding a Waste of Time

Because small claims do not come with heavy court orders to enforce them, many people might view small claims court as a waste of time. In some cases, it might be – particularly if you don’t even win the case! But you’ll want to be sure about this before you decide not to go to small claims court. 

Why? Because you could potentially be losing out on money that’s rightfully yours. In the previous section we talked about the issues with spending more time and energy on a small claims case than is necessary – but it’s also important to recognize that there are times when going to small claims court is the best idea because of its potential rewards.

Many businesses, for example, rely on a steady flow of cash from different clients – using a small claims court to drum up money that is owed can be a great way to ensure that the money is paid after all. If you never collect on what’s owed to you, after all, then you’re probably going to go out of business sooner rather than later.

Your Small Claims Checklist

Still confused about whether or not to bring your claim to small claims court? Let’s see if any of these reasons to do just that might belong to you:

  • You have a reasonable expectation of winning the small claim, as well as collecting on it once you’ve won
  • You need the money for a particular reason
  • You know that even threatening small claims court might win you the money back

If there’s more to your own specific case, then listen to your intuition – and your attorney.

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