Yes! No matter if you are or suing a business or a person. You only must be fifty-one percent convincing. That is, basic facts supporting your small claims is all you need. This means you do not need a lawyer. The system was built to keep lawyers out. This is not the Supreme Court after all! If you use the Squabble app, you do not need to know anything about this process. Squabble does the work for you!
If you need more assurance, please read on. Looking at this question opens a substantial number of topics. Items to explore are the claim type, when the issue happened, where it happened, the steps you take to get to court, how to get paid, the time you have, and finding the correct court.
I will be breaking each of these areas down for you with examples. This way you can relate your issue and move to the next session. However, I encourage you to read the entire article. You will be surprised how useful of a tool Small Claims can be for you, your family, and friends.
How Small Claims rewards winners with money and how to calculate how much you are owed
First up is why you use Small Claims. The money and only the money. Simply put, if money solves your problem, this is the place for you. Smalls Claims keeps things basic. They decide how much money the issue is worth. That is why it is important not to leave any money on the table when adding up all the items worth dollars.
Before we get too far, Small Claims is about small dollar amounts. Depending on which state you live in, this can range from three thousand dollars to twenty thousand dollars. Make sure to check that the amount you are owed is at or below the maximum for your court. Luckily, you can just use Squabble and they will tell you for free.
With that disclaimer out of the way, what really makes Small Claims worth it is what you can get paid. One does not simply get money for what is originally owed. You can get much more than you are originally owed! What your owed dollars are called are damages. And there are quite a few different types of damages. On top of that, all the money you spent to get to court. We call those fees. Yes, you can add those too! If you use Squabble, you can get that fee back too!
Let us dive into how to determine the money you are owed. There is an easy math equation you can use. For simple math, you are owed what the total amount + any costs you had with this issue + any issue dollar amount caused by the original issue + interest. That is a mouthful, so the shorter way of looking at it is you can sue for damages + extra costs + mitigating damages + interest.
Now is a good time for an example. Patrice had her car worked on by a mechanic. It broke down and ended up in another mechanic’s shop. The new mechanic said the last mechanic wrecked her car. Patrice is owed some money.
Patrice starts with the cost of the original repair. It is five hundred dollars. Then she adds the new repair. That cost a thousand dollars. Now because her car broke down and was in the shop again, she could not get to work. Patrice adds up her salary for each of those days. It comes to four hundred dollars. Now for the time she dealt with the break down and for each day the issue is not resolved, she adds five percent interest to the total.
Let us plug these numbers into the Squabble formula! $500 (damages) + $1000 (extra costs) + $400 (mitigating damages) + $70 (interest). This means you are owed $1470! Now let’s add the fees. Patrice paid three hundred dollars on court fees and ninety-five dollars on her Squabble fee. So, her actual amount is $1470 + $300 + $95 which is $1865! Last I checked, $1865 is a lot more than $500!
Wow! Not only did Patrice get to file her claim for free, but get her money back plus some interest!
The downside is the up-front cost for the court fees and other costs can be high. This is a necessary expense as it funds the court process and gets you in front of a judge. However, justice is for all in Small Claims. Let us say Patrice did not have the money for the fees. Thankfully, she can apply to not pay them. This is called a fee waiver.
Based on your eligibility, a waiver may forgive court filing fees. Those that qualify will fill out an application and submit that to the court clerk. After it is reviewed and accepted, you will have your court fees waived. Which means you do not pay them.
There are certain steps each State follows. First is eligibility, the process of requesting a fee waiver, proving your financial status is below Federal Poverty Guidelines, determining your household size and income, marital status, and citizenship/immigration documents.
If your application is denied, there are some items to keep in mind. A form fee is not applicable due to age requirements, household income being above one hundred and fifty percent of Federal Poverty Guidelines, receiving certain benefits may exclude fee relief, no financial hardship, or evidence is not in English or does not have a translation certification.
The court will provide a denial letter explaining why your fee waiver application was denied.
Collecting money after a judgement win for plaintiff and court notifications
Are you still not convinced? That is okay, there are many more benefits to cover. Now is a good time to talk about how you can get paid. No matter how difficult someone is to make pay, there are a lot of ways to get your money back. Each of these ways are very serious for the defendant. Like a Sheriff showing up to your house or business serious.
When the judge decides on a claim, that is called a judgement. So, when there is a judgement, there are several paths to take to getting paid. This court decision is final and a court order is made to satisfy the judgement. Let us break them down.
- Payment Plan
You can negotiate with the court to make a payment plan. They will review your small claims case and provide you a fair estimate of what is to be paid. This works best when you know what the defendant can pay, but cannot all at once.
Squabble Tip: See if your court will allow you to get payments directly from the court. This way there is a record and confirmation of the payments. When the court is notified of made payments, they will also be aware of missing payments. If a payment is missed, the court will take action to make sure you get paid.
With proper evidence and a fair proposal, you can directly negotiate with your defendant. If they are willing to do so, you may be able to reduce their debt significantly. This is a good option if you know the defendant cannot pay the full amount. Negotiating allows you to get as much as you can.
Squabble Tip: Ensure that any negotiations agreed upon are recorded with the court.
- Refuse to Pay
Small claims judgments have quite a long life and can be renewed. Think of judgments as a ten-year pebble in the defendant’s shoe. Even after that point, you have the right to renew the judgment. So even if someone refuses to pay for a period, you can keep the judgement active. Keep in mind, an asset search may be ordered to satisfy the judgement. This way the court will make sure they pay. If the defendant does not pay, you will be able to use the following paths to payment.
How the money will be collected:
- Wage Garnishment
- The defendant’s employer removes funds from their paycheck. So for every payment period, you will automatically get a check based on a percentage of the defendant’s income.
- Bank Levy
- Funds are withdrawn from the defendant’s bank accounts to pay for the judgment. The court will send an order to the bank to have funds deposited directly to you. The defendant cannot stop this.
- The defendant’s property is taken up to the value of the small claims judgment. A sheriff will show up to where the defendant owns property. They will start collecting property up to the value that you are owed. If there is still a debt owed to you, this will stay active. Pretty much, anytime the defendant has something of worth, it’ll become yours in cash until the debt is paid.
- Till Tap
- Law enforcement enters their business and takes cash from the cash register or other ways of storing dollars. If the defendant owns a business, a Sheriff will show up and open anything holding cash. They will then take the money up to what you are owed.
- Law enforcement takes customer funds from the defendant’s client contract payments. This is when the defendant gets paid for services. Much like a wage garnishment from an employer, the Sheriff will take money directly from each transaction until the debt is paid.
Everyone is allowed basic rights to ensure safety. Certain assets are protected or can be deemed so. Even economic status may exempt the defendant from paying more than they are able without indenting themselves beyond relief.
One such asset is Necessary Property. Most states allow you to keep what is needed to work and live within a certain means. Make sure to make an appropriate listing of such property. This way you will know what property is available.
Some assets are known as Judgment Proof. These are assets creditors of any type are not allowed to take. Also note, a defendant filing for bankruptcy may stop collection efforts with plenty of notice. Do not worry too much about that as most bankruptcies work to settle debts rather than erase them completely.
The most important step to take is to find your local small claims court’s rules. This is a powerful tool in understanding what your collection options are. Many people are not made aware of the relief meant for them.
When you win, you are not paid the same day to ensure justice is met on both sides. That is due to all the above options that are determined. It may take a long time depending on your jurisdiction, but the court wants to make sure that you get paid in the best possible way in a reasonable amount of time.
Once you win, everyone involved gets a letter from the court notifying everybody of this next step. It will include instructions on how to move forward. There is no need to be a super lawyer at this stage as the court will walk through each of the different steps and give recommendations based on the evidence in the original claim.
Courts encourage that debts be paid in one lump sum. They do not like having to keep track of small claims after a judgement is made. Regardless, they realize not everyone can pay in a lump sum. Most commonly, debts are paid in a lump sum. If the debt can be paid in a lump sum, the court will force the defendant to pay it right away.
Once the court decides, also known as a judgement, that means the Court has determined you must be compensated. Although still a complex process, maneuvering through this system comes down to dollars and time.
The first step is locating assets which can be done through a private investigator. You are looking for cash, trusts, safety deposit boxes, and anything else that holds a real dollar value. The court permits an examination of the debtor’s assets. If they refuse, you will get forensic analysis of all discovered assets. It will just take time and cost the debtor to reimburse you for the burden.
Properties are considered assets. If property is not surrendered, law enforcement will take it for you. This ranges from cash under a mattress to real estate. To simply put, an allocation of assets will be seized to match the judgment amount. If the process meets a lot of resistance, the court will get involved.
If all fails within a certain period, the judgment will expire. It’s important to know when you must renew a judgment. It is a simple, but pivotal step towards collecting your judgment.
Small Claims Service of Process, finding and notifying the defendant
Phew, that was a lot to consider! To summarize what we’ve covered so far, we will break it down. First up, if someone owes you something, Small Claims will get you money for it. Second, there are many ways to collect what you are owed. There is no escaping this debt!
Still not sure Small Claims is right for you? Let us see what it takes to find a defendant. Perhaps if you see how to get started, you will feel more comfortable with moving forward. This is called Service of Process.
Generally, Service of Process includes the steps taken for finding and informing a defendant of your claim against them. Thankfully in our nation, you must be duly notified of a court proceeding against you. In the United States Constitution, courts cannot exercise personal jurisdiction over a defendant unless notified. Until that time, no action will be taken outside of locating you. This is a process that is simply defined and complicated to execute.
This is a complex civil procedure carried out in a few different ways. A defendant must be physically notified (an agent directly serves them), by certified mail, by a court agent or notifying court instrument, or, in the rarest of scenarios, by email.
There are ways for the defendant to waive service, but it is still considered a court accepted notification. This only provides the defendant with more time to prepare a response. However, if they refuse, as the defendant they must reimburse the costs for arranging in-hand service. This can be a few hundred dollars depending on how difficult it was to locate them.
Certain defendants will try to evade service or be difficult to locate. To find the defendant, you perform a procedure called Skip Tracing. To simply define it, by using information like a social security number the investigator searches public information and physically discovers the defendant’s location. It has been a rather successful system.
Small claim types and how to write a statement
Now that we know how the system generally works, let us look at some claim examples. This way you can see what makes a claim and how to write a statement.
Statements are important as they boil everything down to the facts. No matter the claim, you will always have to provide a statement. The goal is to keep a statement under four sentences.
The idea is to simply explain why the defendant owes you money. Be concise; tell your story by stating the facts, dates, and action taken. Don’t worry, at your small claims court date, you will have an opportunity to further explain to the judge why the defendant owes you money.
First up is what the different small claim types are.
- Personal Injury
- Broken Contract
- Damaged Property
- Debt Collection
- Auto Repair
- Poor Construction
- Product Defect
- Attorney/Client Fee
- Stolen Property
Patrice lives in a rental. She moved at the end of her lease. She made sure to take pictures before leaving. She also kept a copy of her lease. The landlord Dennis only returned one hundred dollars out of the two-thousand-one-hundred dollar security deposit. For three months she did not get her security deposit back.
Why are you owed $2,000.00?
Dennis (the defendant) owes me $2,000.00 because he has not returned my entire security deposit since I moved out on January 1, 2021. I have pictures of the good condition I left the apartment in, yet Dennis refuses to provide me the deposit. He’s only returned $100.00.
How did you calculate $2,000.00?
Based on the lease agreement, I was to recover the entire $2,100.00 security deposit if I left the apartment in as good of a condition as the day I moved in. Dennis has only given me $100.00.
Patrice went to Dennis’s house to install lights in his kitchen. Dennis just mopped his floors, but left them very wet. As Patrice entered the kitchen, she slipped on a puddle of water and broke her arm. She later got a five-thousand-dollar bill from the hospital.
Why are you owed $5,000.00?
Dennis (the defendant) owes me $5,000.00 because on January 1, 2021 I fell at his house and broke my arm. I broke my arm when I slipped on puddles of water in his kitchen. My medical bills were $5,000.00. I’m seeking reimbursement for the medical bills I incurred from the injury.
How did you calculate $5,000.00?
Based on medical statements provided by the hospital.
Patrice hired a photographer named Dennis for engagement photos. Patrice and Dennis agreed to his terms and the date over email. A week before the shoot, Dennis asked to be paid in full. Patrice paid Dennis seven thousand dollars over Venmo. When it came to the day of the shoot, Dennis never showed up or contacted Patrice. Patrice then had to hire another photographer. When Patrice demanded Dennis return her money, Dennis refused because he wants to reschedule for a month later.
Why are you owed $7,000.00?
Dennis (the defendant) owes me $7,000.00 because he failed to take my engagement pictures on May 5, 2020. I paid Dennis $7,000.00 via Venmo 5 days before picture day. Dennis never showed up to the site where we agreed to take engagement photos. He refuses to give me my money back because he wants to reschedule for April 5, 2021.
How did you calculate $7,000.00?
$7,000.00 is the amount Dennis and I agreed to via email. Because he didn’t show up on picture day, I had to replace him with another photographer who charged me $7,000.00 for the same service.
Patrice went to a work meeting at her co-worker Dennis’s house. When she arrived, Dennis insisted they work by the pool in his backyard. Before Patrice could answer, he picked up her laptop and walked out. When he went to put it on the table, he misplaced it and dropped it into the pool. When Patrice asked him to pay for her new laptop from Best Buy she bought to replace the broken one, he refused.
Why are you owed $3,000.00?
Dennis (the defendant) owes me $3,000.00 because he broke my laptop when he held it incorrectly and dropped it in the pool. My laptop has not turned on since. Dennis refuses to pay for the new laptop.
How did you calculate $3,000.00?
I went to Best Buy the next day and purchased a new laptop for $3,000.00. I have the Best Buy receipt showing the price I paid.
Patrice went to a truck show with Dennis. Dennis found a truck he loved. He didn’t have the money on him to buy the truck. He asked Patrice for the money and that he would pay her back that day. Patrice gave him the money. Dennis bought the truck, but said it was too late to go to the bank. It has been one month.
Why are you owed $2,000.00?
Dennis (the defendant) owes me $2,000.00 because it’s the amount I lent to help him pay for his truck. We agreed that he would pay me back by January 1, 2021, but has not.
How did you calculate $2,000.00?
He borrowed $2,000.00 in cash.
Patricia was stopped at a red light. Dennis was speeding and crashed into her. Dennis does not have insurance. Patricia had to pay for the repairs herself. It cost her two thousand dollars.
Why are you owed $2,000.00?
Dennis (the defendant) owes me $2,000.00 because he crashed into my car when failing to stop at a red light. The car accident happened on January 1, 2021. He damaged my bumper and it cost me $2,000.00 to repair. He now refuses to reimburse me.
How did you calculate $2,000.00?
The repairs cost me $2,000.00. The auto body receipts detail the repairs I paid for.
Patricia hired Dennis to make her a deck. He did such a terrible job that the deck was unsafe. Dennis refused to repair it. Patricia had to hire a new contractor to fix the deck. The new contractor charged five thousand dollars.
Why are you owed $5,000.00?
Dennis (the defendant) owes me $5,000.00 because he made a deck I had to have reconstructed. Dennis built an unsafe deck with a poor foundation. I asked him to fix the issues and he refused so I hired a new contractor.
How did you calculate $5,000.00?
The new contractor charged me $5,000.00 to fix and reconstruct the deck.
Patricia hired Dennis to install a working piano fan. A few days later, it stopped working. She paid Dennis four thousand dollars.
Why are you owed $4,000.00?
Dennis (the defendant) owes me $4,000.00 because he made me a defective patio fan. Just three days after it was installed, the fan stopped working. As of January 1, 2021, the fan has not worked. I want my money back.
How did you calculate $4,000.00?
The contract terms state that I would pay Dennis $4,000.00 for a working patio fan.
Attorney/ Client Fee
Patrice hired an attorney named Dennis to help her resolve an issue. The advice she paid for was not right. She paid six thousand five hundred dollars for the bad advice.
Why are you owed $6,500.00?
Dennis (the defendant) owes me $6,500.00 because he provided incorrect legal advice. As a result, I missed the filing deadline for my case. He said I had two more years to file my case in court but, I only had until January 1, 2021.
How did you calculate $6,500.00?
The amount Dennis charged on his invoice.
Patrice went to a Christmas party with a bunch of family and friends. She got a very nice necklace from her grandmother. Before she left the party, the necklace was gone. She later found out that Dennis took her necklace.
Why are you owed $8,000.00?
Dennis (the defendant) owes me $8,000.00 because he stole my necklace during a Christmas party. After the new year, I saw him with my necklace. I know it’s my necklace because my grandmother gifted me the unique family heirloom. I’ve asked Dennis to hand it back and he denies everything.
How did you calculate $8,000.00?
My grandmother certified the diamond necklace and the jeweler’s certification confirms the item’s value for $8,000.00.
Patrice was convinced by her friend to use a guy she knew named Dennis to repair her car. Dennis promised he could replace Patrice’s engine with a new and better one. Dennis installed an old and used engine. Patrice found this out when her SUV broke down. It cost her six thousand dollars to replace the engine with Dennis and in the correct way with a new mechanic.
Why are you owed $6,000.00?
Dennis (the defendant) owes me $6,000.00 because I had to replace the engine he installed in my 2014 SUV. Dennis promised to install a new engine, but actually installed a very old and used one. Dennis installed the engine on January 1, 2021 and it broke down on January 15, 2021.
How did you calculate $6,000.00?
I paid Dennis $2,500.00 to install a new engine. The cost to replace the broken engine was $3,500. I have receipts of the orders.
The importance of dates as evidence and small claims court acceptance time
Everything we covered is how to get paid. It seems overwhelming because it is. Even though there is a lot, it is all good news. This should reassure you that you will get paid. There are just a lot of ways to get paid. The hardest part is making sure you are asking for enough. The court does not give you more than you ask for!
At this point, we know how to make a claim and what a claim looks like. That is well and good, but you must file the claim in a certain amount of time. To put it simply, your claim will not go to court if you do not file in time. Dates are important.
Having accurate dates is the first indicator of whether a claim exists or not. Dates are also pieces of evidence used to prove your claim. Proving dates can be done by digital communications, letters, appointments, receipts, and signature dates. The most important date is when the harm giving rise to damage occurred.
An accurate timeline provides the court an outline. Remember, you need to be fifty-one percent convincing so if you don’t know the exact date, you may provide an educated guess.
The other factor to consider is Statute of Limitations. Time starts ticking for most small claims. In short, it is the time allowed to bring a claim against a defendant.
Here is an example:
Patrice has been having issues with her car. She brought the vehicle to a mechanic. The mechanic determines that whoever made repairs to critical parts of the car is responsible for the issues.
Patrice finds her receipts and shares them with the mechanic. The mechanic identifies which receipts match current issues. Patrice now must gather information.
She finds the insurance reports, intake documents, bill statements, and final estimate for Dennis’s Auto Repair. Each of these have dates she uses them to create a timeline for her claim. Now she has an outline to add evidence to and why the original mechanic owes her a cash remedy.
Here is another example:
Patrice got hurt a few years ago. It was so long ago that she felt it was not worth the trouble finding out if she is owed anything.
Patrice reads a Squabble article about Statute of Limitations. She then checks her jurisdiction and sees what the time limit is for personal injury. Patrice only has two months left to file before her claim expires! She then fills out the Squabble app and saves her claim! Squabble files her claim in court within three days.
Statute of Limitations, how much time a small claims has to be filed
We see the importance of dates. Now we need to understand how the court views time. This is how you will know how much time you have left.
A certain amount of time is allotted to each legal claim. This is called the Statute of Limitations. Depending on your claim type, you will only have a certain amount of time to file a lawsuit. Ranging from a breach of an oral contract to a claim against a government entity, it is important to know these filing deadlines!
Once the Statute of Limitations has expired, the court will no longer recognize the claim. Each jurisdiction has their own guidelines, but they are always ranging from one year to multiple years.
In certain circumstances, the Statute of Limitations does not start until certain criteria are met. For example, the defendant is no longer a minor or another inhibiting prosecutorial factor. This is called Tolling the Statute of Limitations and Tolling is consistent among diverse jurisdictions. Keep in mind, certain particulars vary such as Age of Majority.
Defining what a jurisdiction is and how a small claims court has the power to adjudicate
I brought up a new term. Jurisdiction. This is the last piece to understand. Knowing your jurisdiction will tell you everything you need to know. Of course, Squabble does this for you.
A jurisdiction is the Court’s authority over a lawsuit. Jurisdictions are the appropriate areas where Courts have legal power to resolve disputes between parties. There are several types of jurisdictions, but we are concerning ourselves with basic court authority. Determining the accurate area in which to file a lawsuit is really important. If a case is filed in the wrong jurisdiction, the Court may reject the filing.
Courts with jurisdiction are allowed to hold their authority over individuals, businesses, and the government itself. Courts may only exercise their authority when a lawsuit is filed properly.
Simply put, jurisdiction gives the Court power to adjudicate. If the Court does not have jurisdiction over a claim or parties, it cannot resolve any matter.
Here is an example:
Patrice lives in California, a different state than who she is suing lives. Patrice must determine which Court has authority over the defendant who lived in Georgia, but moved to Florida. To file a case in the proper Court with jurisdiction, Patrice must determine where the harm occurred and defendant’s residence.
That is all you need to know to get started with Small Claims. We talked about why you would use Small Claims, the process of filing a claim, how to get paid, what a claim is, and why filing as soon as possible is the best way to go. What all this adds up to is that Small Claims is a great way to get paid what you are owed.
Doing this yourself is possible. It just takes a lot of dedication and work. That is why Squabble exists. They know how complex this process is. Rather than have you focus on dealing with the court and doing all the steps, Squabble only makes you fill out the app for a few minutes. Small Claims is worth it, whether you do it yourself or not. With Squabble, you just can focus on getting paid.