What Is Small Claims Court?

You feel like you have been screwed. Yeah, it may be only a few hundred dollars, but on principle … you got screwed.

You have tenants who missed pent payments. You have a mechanic you paid to fix your car, but he didn’t’ fix the car. Your paid roofers to fix a leak and yet the leak is still there.

The amount you are missing is small enough that it would not make sense to hire legal representation and file an actual court claim, but it’s large enough that you can’t’ bring yourself to just forgive it and chalk it up as a lesson learned.

But gosh darn it, o principle … you’ve been screwed. You need to be whole.

Enter what is called small-claims court.

Small-claims court is an opportunity for people of the street to be lawyers, representing themselves in a claim for compensatory damages due to a loss from a breach of contract. The court features a judge and the two parties giving their cases for the claim or counterclaim and the judge ruling on a dollar amount based on the evidence provided. If you have ever seen the People’s Court or Judge Judy, this is basically how small claims court works. (Except the judges aren’t necessarily as snarky and opinionated as Judge Judy, as much as we all may like or hate her.)

Most states have a maximum amount of award for a small-claims court case; anything larger than that amount or includes any punitive damages would be bumped up a regular district court and would involve lawyers and all the associated expenses thereof.

Small-claims courts usually handle cases of less than $1,600-$2,000 and usually only require a small filing fee for the claim. The parties involved will have to appear before the judge and present their evidence (payment records, inventory of damages, a contract, etc.) that will support or refute the case. Usually, there is no punitive damage tacked on; it’s is usually decided who was the wronged party and how much did that person lose, and that becomes the award in the case

At some point, virtually everyone gets screwed (or scammed), and many of us are fortunate enough that we don’t lose our life savings or more in the process. But just on principle, even if we lose a few hundred dollars, we may want to pursue some relief if we tried to do the right thing and the other party wronged us by not doing the right thing. And of course, cheaters should never win.

Small-claims court is not something to be abused, but it can be a valuable tool in standing up for your rights when you are always looking to do the right thing by people and you’re not getting cooperation in that endeavor.