What is Small Claims Court?

When you hear “small claims,” do visions of Judge Judy swarm in your head? Most of the afternoon court shows are small claims courts. Small claims court is an informal court. No attorneys are involved. The maximum amount you can sue someone for is $3,000.

A small claims case must be filed in the district court where the person or business you are suing lives, or where the action you are suing about took place. After you file the complaint (standard forms are available at most district courts), you have 90 days to “serve” the person you are suing. To do this you need to have another adult personally hand them the paperwork, or send the paperwork to them registered and certified mail. If they sign for and accept the documents, they are “served.”

Then a hearing is held. During the hearing, both parties are put under oath and tell their side of the story to a judge or magistrate. There is no right to a jury trial. You are allowed to bring witnesses and any evidence you have to support your side of the case. The judge takes the testimony and evidence into consideration and then decides if there are damages, and how much they are. The hearing is conducted “off the record,” so there is no formal recording of what happens, and the right to appeal is minimum.

There are a lot of advantages to small claims court.

  • The fees for filing a claim are usually less than for a general civil case.
  • No attorneys are involved, which helps cut costs.
  • It’s quick; the hearing is normally held within 30 days after the defendant is served.

There are some disadvantages to be noted as well.

  • You cannot have an attorney to assist you.
  • You give up your right to a jury trial.
  • The opportunity for appeals is limited.
  • If your claim is actually over $3,000 you waive your right to collect more than $3,000 by filing in small claims.
  • The case can be removed from small claims court if either party requests it.
  • Certain types of cases cannot be heard-such as intentional torts, libel/slander, or fraud.

If you win the hearing, and the judge or magistrate decides that you are entitled to damages, a judgment will be entered. After you win, it’s up to you to collect the money from the person you sued. The court does not help you do this. Do this by:

  • Garnishment: requesting an employer or bank to give you the money they hold for the person you sued. Forms to do this can be found on the Michigan Court of Appeals
  • Lien: putting a claim on titled property they own, such as a car or a house. They will have to pay your claim before they can sell or transfer the property.
  • Writ of Execution: hiring a sheriff to go to their house or business and seize property to be auctioned off to pay you what they owe you.

Still have questions about small claims, or civil cases? Call Attorney Jill Duffy at 248-624-5500.

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