You May Want to File a Personal Injury Claim Instead
Just because you have been injured in an accident doesn’t mean that you have to go to the court. There are other ways to get compensation for your injuries and losses. In most cases, you can negotiate a settlement with the responsible party’s insurance company. If your claim involves only a small amount of money, then you can take your case to the small claims court. The maximum dollar amount is between $3,000 and $10,000 in most states (and up to $25,000 in some states).
However, personal injury lawyers usually advise against using small claims and their reasons are explained in the following paragraphs. But first, let’s explain what a small claims court is.
What is a small claims court?
A small claims court is a special court designed to resolve disputes quickly and inexpensively. In this type of court, the rules are simplified and the hearings are informal, and plaintiffs (the people filing the claim) usually represent themselves. These courts may have different names in different states. In some states, they are called City Courts, Municipal Courts, or Justice of the Peace Courts.
When can you file a small claim?
You can file a small claim in the following cases:
- You have loaned a small amount of money to someone and the debtor has failed to pay it back to you.
- You paid a service provider for a service (such as a mechanic to repair your car) and that person didn’t actually provide the service.
- Your previous landlord has failed to return the security deposit without providing any reason.
- There has been a breach of contract or warranty on a product or service you have purchased and you want compensation for the damages.
When can you not file a small claims?
You cannot file a small claim in following cases:
- You wish to file a divorce from your spouse.
- Someone has engaged in libel or slander against you.
- A law enforcement agency or officer has arrested you on false charges.
- There is dispute with someone regarding the guardianship of a minor.
- You have a dispute with an employee of a federal agency regarding their work for the government.
How does small claims work?
Small claims lawsuit is sometimes referred to as a ‘complaint’ or ‘action’. Here is how it works:
- The first step is to determine the monetary value of your claim. If it is within the allowed amount, then you can proceed.
- The lawsuit must be filed either in the county where you live or in the county where the defendant resides or in the county where you sustained the injuries.
- You will be required to pay a small filing fee (of not more than $100), which you can request the court to include in the verdict if you win.
- When filing your complaint, you will be required to describe the basic reasons for the lawsuit in a few sentences.
- After you have filed the complaint, you will have to wait until the court sends notice to the defendant, which may take a few weeks.
- If you wish the present any witnesses, you can request the court to serve them a subpoena. A subpoena is a writ ordering an individual to attend a court.
- Since you will have no lawyer (in most cases), you will be representing yourself in the court. As a plaintiff, you will be asked to present your side of the case first.
- After you have spoken, the defendant will be asked to present his or her side of the case.
- After hearing the testimonies, the judge or the jury will give their verdict.
- If you win, you will receive your compensation within two weeks. If you lose, you may file an appeal to a higher court.
Why should you not use small claims?
Small claims sounds great when the amount of your claim is small. But it has some downsides that include:
- You cannot sue the defendant’s claims adjuster or insurance company. You must sue the actual person who caused the injuries. While the defendant’s insurance company can defend the lawsuit on behalf of their client, they are not officially a party to the lawsuit. This means if the defendant has no money, you will not get paid even if you win.
- Attorneys are generally not allowed in a small claims court (except in special cases), which means you will have to present your case yourself. If you know nothing or very little about how lawsuits work, then you will have a very tough time in the court and may probably lose if you are not good at presenting evidence.
Therefore, talk to personal injury lawyers before taking your case to the small claims court. They will usually suggest better alternatives, such as a settlement, arbitration or mediation.