Do you need help settling
a dispute? Are you curious about Small Claims Court?
WHAT IS IT?
According to the Washington State Attorney General, Small Claims Court allows
a person to settle a legal dispute that involves $4000 or less without hiring
an attorney. This court only considers money-related cases in which one party
owes a fixed sum to the other. Small Claims Court action must be initiated
within three years of the disputed transaction.
To start a case in Small Claims Court, the plaintiff must file a claim that
states the following:
• where the defendant lives
• where the defendant conducts business
• details concerning the incident and where it took place
The first step in filing a claim is to contact the District Court in your
area. Simply tell the clerk that you want to start a small claims action.
The clerk will give you several forms to fill out. You will also receive information
about the Small Claims Court process. The first court form is called a "Notice
of Small Claims." You will describe your claim and provide the defendant's
correct name, address, and phone number. Once you submit this form, you will
have to pay a $10 to $25 filing fee and submit copies of all documents. A
"Notice of Small Claims" must then be delivered or served to the
defendant. This notice instructs him/her to appear in court. If you win the
case, charges will be awarded to you.
The defendant could file a counterclaim against you. An example of a counterclaim
would be if a carpet cleaner ruined your carpet, and you filed a claim in
Small Claims Court without paying the bill, the company can file a counterclaim
against you for the cost of cleaning. If the judge decided in favor of the
company, you would be required to pay for the cleaning and the court costs.
THE COURT PROCEEDING
The next step is a court proceeding. Make sure your presentation is prepared,
complete, and brief. Remember to remain calm and professional and bring all
relevant documents with you. At the end of the trial, the judge will issue
a decision. If the decision is in favor of the plaintiff, the court will then
order the defendant to pay a certain amount of money. If it is in favor of
the defendant, the case will be dismissed. If it is in favor of the counterclaim,
the plaintiff may be ordered to pay a judgment, or the judge may dismiss it
Remember, if you have a small issue that you haven't been able to resolve
out of court, the small claims court can be a relatively easy and expedient
way to solve your problems.
NOTE:If you don't live in Washington the rules in other states are similar.
Just check with the clerk of the court at your county courthouse or at your
AG's website for more information.