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» How to Take Someone to Small Claims Court

How Did I Do It? > Legal > How to Take Someone to Small Claims Court
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Someone owes you money but is refusing to pay.

You may think that the only way you’re ever going to see a penny is by spending a fortune on a lawyer, and if the amount you’re due isn’t a lot, it isn’t worth the cost.

That doesn’t mean that you should give up all hope of getting your cash.

Consider going to small claims court to clear things up.

You don’t need a lawyer; in fact, most small claims court cases don’t involve lawyers because the process is very simple and the amount of money involved is low.

  1. First, you’ll need to determine if your case qualifies. You must be age 18 or older to file a claim. You can only ask for cash; small claims courts can’t make someone give you back your dog or vacate your apartment. And the amount in question has to be less than $10,000. If all of that is true, then keep on reading. If not, you’re probably going to need to talk to a lawyer (or get a parent/guardian to file for you if you’re underage.)
  2. Next, you’ll need to determine who should be named in your claim. In some cases, this is easy. John Smith borrowed $500 from you, guaranteed in writing, and now he won’t pay it back. But if your problem is with a company, you’ll need to find out who should be named in your lawsuit:
    • For a sole proprietorship, you need the name of the person who is running the business.
    • For a partnership, list the individual partners by name.
    • For a corporation, list the corporation and serve the papers to the agent for service listed with the Secretary of State’s office.
  3. Go to the courthouse to pick up the paperwork. There should be a booklet for litigants who are taking action without a lawyer that will explain the entire process to you. The process listed may differ from the following steps, so make sure to read those documents carefully. If the person or company you’re bringing the lawsuit against lives in a different county or precinct than you, you will probably need to file where they live/operate their business, so pick up the booklet and paperwork from there.
  4. Get all of your documents together. You need to have paperwork proving that you are entitled to the money you’re asking for. Generally, you’ll need to bring two copies of all of your documents, but check your booklet just to be sure on the correct number of copies. If there are damages that will need to be repaired, you’ll need to bring written estimates showing how much the work will cost.
  5. Determine if you need witnesses. Generally, it’s best to provide paperwork but in some cases that’s just not possible. Remember that your witnesses must have seen the event(s) in person; they can’t testify that they “heard about it.”
  6. File your legal documents in person at the courthouse and make sure to write down your case number for further reference. You’ll need to pay the fees at this time as indicated in your booklet. The court may serve the papers and notify the defendant of the trial date or you might need to do it. If you need to deliver anything to the defendant, send it via certified mail so that you can prove that it was received. If the court is serving the documents, follow up with the clerk within two weeks to find out the court date.
  7. Show up at the court date on time and with your paperwork in hand. The judge will explain exactly what is going to happen. It’s very important to stay calm and be polite at all times. Your booklet should help to prepare you for what you should say. In general, it’s better to leave complex legal arguments to the lawyers; simply state what you can prove and show your documents or present your witnesses to support what you are saying.
  8. If the judgment is against you, you can appeal at the county level within ten days.

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