What These Famous Small Claims Cases Can Tell You About Your Case

By | September 9, 2011

If you’ve never been to small claims court before, the process can seem daunting. Sure, the name “small claims” isn’t exactly intimidating compared to regular court proceedings. But in the face of a justice system that’s so experienced with just about every case under the sun, you may find yourself asking if you have much of a case at all.

The best way to assuage any fears or trepidations you might have about the small claims process is to show you how frequently people use it. And there’s no better way to do this than to use the power of notable small claims cases to inspire you further – even if these cases are examples of what not to do. That’s why we’re going to take a look at just a few such cases. Seeing what people have done before you can help you feel better about going to small claims and less anxious about the results.

Of course, there are few specific examples of truly “famous” small claims cases – any court proceeding that’s going to be known as a “trial of the century” is going to demand far more media coverage than any small claims case. But there are still examples out there to learn from. Let’s take a look at just a few of these.

Courts on Television

Although the courts you see on television are in no way part of the justice system, many of the cases that are featured could be described as small claims cases. Typically, a plaintiff will have a specific complaint against a defendant and ask for an amount of money that would be a “small claim” in a number of states. The case is reviewed by the TV judge, of course, who then offers their ruling.

Whether or not this ruling is legally binding and forces the defendant to pay isn’t well-known. This actually mirrors the real world of small claims cases in which a judge has the authority to order a debt be paid, but won’t necessarily enforce this order. This can mean the burden of collection is placed on the shoulders of the plaintiff – in this case, you – and can ultimately lead to more frustration if the defendant isn’t being cooperative.

Should you be able to understand how a small claims case works after watching an episode of “Judge Judy”? Well, not really. The shows are really there for our entertainment, not for their educational value. Even so, understanding the basic premise of the small claims case can be a great way to take away from any mystery the process may have to you.

Tiger Woods Fan Suing the PGA

Though this case only qualifies as being as “famous” as small claims cases seem to get, it’s certainly been a newsworthy one. A fan who attended a PGA event to support Tiger Woods – wearing a bright orange tiger suit, no less – had been kicked out of the event for obvious reasons. This fan then sued the Professional Golf Association in small claims court, claiming his civil rights had been infringed upon.

What’s interesting is that this fan chose $7,150 as the amount of money to sue for because it was the largest amount of money that he could sue for in his local small claims laws.

If this case serves as an example of anything, it’s that just about anyone with the will to do so can file a small claims case for any amount they wish – that’s just no guarantee of any results. Taking someone (even a large organization like the PGA) to small claims doesn’t mean you’ll win simply because the case is small. But sometimes these cases do make for entertaining stories from an outsider’s perspective.

Just make sure you don’t wear any tiger suits to golf events.

Understanding Your Own Potential Case

Small claims cases are just that – small. They’re only considered newsworthy if they happen for an odd reason, as we saw in the PGA case. So don’t take television small claims or news reports as examples of what will definitely happen in your own small claims case. If you have a case, you have a case: it’s as simple as that.

Although the man in the PGA example went for as much money as he could get, it’s important that you sue in small claims for the right – and just – amount of money. You can’t expect to get paid much more than you deserve just because you have to resort to small claims court. Sure, you might add the cost of filing a small claim as well as attorney fees to your overall claim, but the further you go over the mark, the less credible you’ll seem to a judge who otherwise might have sided with you. Before you go off on your own, talk to a lawyer and listen to their advice – even when it comes to small claims.

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