Small claims court

Have you ever taken someone to small claims court for any reason?

If so, was it worth it or was it to much trouble. I’m debating whether I should take a client to small claims court for non-payment.

It doesn’t cost much to file, and you don’t need a lawyer. The other party can file a counter claim against you, but that is not always the case. Do note that just because you won does not mean they will pay up, but they will get a nasty note in their record until it is cleared (preventing them from buying a house for example).

I am not a lawyer, so don’t take this as expert advice.

Yes I have. I would say it was well worthwhile it for two reasons. The first has been to get indisputable proof that I was in the right and to recover the money owed. The second is the self satisfaction of knowing that I haven’t been turned over by some scumbag who had no intention of paying. Once the court makes an order for payment it is your decision whether or not to pursue it in cases of genuine hardship.

No matter how ‘right’ you are you are bound by the state limit for small claims (usually 3 to 7 thousand) and the fact that you can win a ‘judgment’ but no actual monetary award. You need to collect on that judgment if the defendant doesn’t pay up right away, and that can be a hassle. If they don’t’ have any money, for example, you probably won’t get anything.

It’s easy, though, and worth it if you are confident of winning and the defendant has money (that you can somehow get). A judgment allows you to do things like raid people’s bank accounts/assets but there is some hassle involved.

Doing it for ‘satisfaction’ or principle isn’t good business - just do it if the amount of time you think will take is worth the likely proceeds. Otherwise, walk away and go make money elsewhere!

In the UK taking somebody through the small claims court is very easy. It is simply a case of putting in a claim for up to £5000 which costs about £80. (fully tax deductible; as is the debt providing you go through the legal process) The defendant must put forward a defence or else you win by default. Often the court will take both written statements and make a judgement without any requirement for either party to appear. If there is a hearing it is usually done and dusted within a half an hour. In 70% of cases the defendant doesn’t enter a defence or show up for the hearing which means you win by default. If you haven’t been paid within 14 days you can ask the court to appoint a bailiff to restrain goods to be auctioned off. These guys know what they are doing and usually manage to get the the money instead. The cost of the bailiff is borne by the debtor. There is nothing difficult in writing a claim all you have to do is put down the truth. It takes about ten minutes.

I’ve been to small claims court a couple of times, and it was well worth it. It was very easy. I just filled out a little paperwork and paid the fee… they contacted the defendant and when they settle we went to court. It only took about 20 minutes and we had all the documentation, so we won. They gave the defendant about 2 weeks to pay, and they actually paid us on the last day before we were able to put it on their credit and seize assets.

I probably wouldn’t go to small claims court for a couple hundred dollars, but for several thousand… it’s a no brainer. Just make sure you have all your documentation and just present the facts, not your opinion.

I have had to turn the screws to a few people via the court system, but it was for over say 2,000. If it’s less than that it is sorta fun to turn it over to some nasty collection agency. That worked once for me as well.

I think in the US at least you have to do one or the other. You can’t sue them and turn it over for collection. The court route does give you the opportunity to start seizing things, garnishing wages, etc. if they opt to not pay you.

hope that helps,

In my experience, don’t bother unless you have a solid case with clear evidence in writting.

Wow. You guys are so lucky. Where I live (Bulgaria), AFAIK, we don’t have a “small claims court”, or even if we did (I’m not sure honestly, but I’ve never heard of this either, so I’m assuming there’s no such thing), it sure as hell won’t be that fast and easy. The court has its own schedule that you and/or the defendant must follow, and there are usually several hearings as well (within a season at least, often far more!). Judgment is usually done in the presence of both parties (previously notified for the “judgment day” of course). Once you win the case, it’s easy to ask for supervision that they would pay up (bank accounts, etc.), but until you do, it’s such a hassle, that no one would actually bother filing a case to begin with. If it’s up to 2000 BGN (that’s ~1000 euro, but you can buy more here for this amount than in western Europe), it’s just not worth it at all. Oh, and if you lose, you ALWAYS pay ALL debts for the case, so you end up loosing far more than what you’d have won.

boen_robot, “small claims court” is just a streamline court process. It helps to reduce the amount of time most legal cases take. But in some cases it can still take a while to complete. The system differers depending on the region. Some are complex and some are simple. By the way, have you seen “Judge Judy”? It’s a TV show - a simplified small claims court which is entertaining to watch - and usually fast.

Well, our system is from the complex ones, for sure. I guess there are more complicated ones, but I’m sure we’re in the top 10. That’s precisely the reason EU recently denied us funds for some police related programs (FAR and SAPARD if memory serves) - there is no decrease in criminal acts, while at the same time there’s a descrease in people going to prisons and a decrease in completed court cases over the last 2 years.

I realize what a “small claims court” is, I’m just not aware if our court allows such kind of procedures. And no, I haven’t watched “Judge Judy”.

Here is an example of Judge Judy:

Actually, small claims court is different from criminal court in that you dont have to prove things being a reasonable doubt. By having your case tried by a small claims court, you are asking the judge to make a decision based on the preponderance of evidence. That means that you don’t have to PROVE your case as much as you have to get the judge to believe your claim/defense and rule in your favor.

Written evidence is great, but millions of small claims cases are won based on oral testimony alone. Each case is different.

I was in a position where someone owed my 10,000. I went to a lawyer, a high priced one in Scottsdale, paid him 600 to send a letter of demand, which the person ignored.

I didn’t file a suit, mostly because I don’t have the money to.

The thing about lawsuits is that you have to be prepared to go the distance and spend money. If it’s really not worth it, then bite the bullet and forget about it. But if you have the money and time, do it.

In the UK, you can get what’s known as an LBA (‘Letter before action’) done by various online debt collection agencies for a couple quid. It can be a useful (and cheap) preliminary reminder that action is pending.

In some cases it’s a good idea to file in small claims court even though the limit is lower then what you are owed. I went to SC court over a 9k debt even though the court could only award $7500. I won, and it was totally worth it.

Many years ago in California, USA … I took a client to small claims court. I knew they could pay, but because I had sold my business (asset sale) and would no longer do work for them, they apparently decided they could get away with it.

On one attempt to collect, the woman who writes the checks made a mistake. “You won’t be getting paid until you talk to Mr Xxxxxxxx (department head)”.

The problem was, Mr Xxxxxxxx would never get on the telephone.

I wrote that quote down precisely as it had been uttered.

Then I went to the library and did some research. I discovered a law/statute that defined the cases for punative damages.

When I went to small claims court I asked for 3 X damages, using the book keeper’s statement as evidence and citing that law. The judge smiled and complimented me on my research work … and Mr Xxxxxxxxx almost swallowed his tongue. The judge awarded me the treble damages.

The company immediately filed an appeal (more to the story but it’s very technical and boring) but in the process they also made an immediate offer to pay the original invoice plus costs.

Do your homework. If you’re right, the court is your friend.

Evaluate your clients properly at the beginning of the project

In France the procedure is very simple, they call it injunction de payer. I used it twice. To avoid this process I will suggest you use a billing agency who will collect the payment on your behalf against a commission.

To avoid the procedure of going to court and payments to enforce the decision of the court. Evaluate your potential clients very well? If you feel they will leave you at the end of the project, don’t take the work at all, as there are many ways to identify unprofessional peple… However,the advantage of a small claims court is that it will prevent your client from doing the same thing to another person.

One of my employers didn’t want to give me my last paycheck. I gave them ample time, with several notices, but they just ignored my emails. After about three months I filed a case. They ended up settling the day of the case.

IMHO if you are in the right, ‘most’ people will try to avoid having their dirty laundry aired and will probably settle, without you having to goto court.

As an interesting side note, I got a letter from one of those lawyer shows. I can’t remember the name, but it was one of the basic cable ones. The letter said that if I won, they would guarantee I got paid.

I love bulgarian made AK47’s. Just grab one of those and claim your property back!

No I kid, here in California small claims is easy - just one form and go to court and argue your case. Yes you need to spend a whole day + preparing for your case, but if it’s for a few thousand it’s usually worth it.