What to DO, when you SUE. (Part 1)

What to do before filing a law suit
What to do before filing a law suit


Often people will enter into an agreement or business transaction and things just don’t work out. In the end, one or both parties may feel entitled to some sort of retribution, which usually comes down to money.

When you feel a person, entity or business owes you money, the first place to consider filing a cause of action is in Small Claims Court. A lot of people may have heard of Small Claims Court and more than likely have seen it play out to some degree on TV (Judge Judy, People’s Court, etc.) but what exactly is Small Claims Court?

Small Claims Court is an informal court where people can sue for MONEY ONLY, up to $3,000 in Town or Village Courts, and $5,000 in City Courts. An individual may appear in Small Claims Court without an attorney if they so choose.

If you are the one filing the cause of action (the plaintiff) the claim must be brought within the town, village or city in which the person/entity/business you are suing resides or has an office.

To be eligible to sue in Small Claims Court, a person must be 18 years of age or over. If you are younger, a parent or guardian may sue on your behalf.

If you are a member of a corporation, partnership, or association, you may sue on behalf of the corporation but you may only do so in Commercial Claims Court. Commercial Claims Court is a lot like Small Claims Court, but the corporation, partnership, etc. must file suit in a City Court within the county of residence and or business of the person in which they wish to sue. The corporation, partnership, etc. also must be represented by an attorney.

To start Small Claims action is pretty simple. Just call the court and request the appropriate form. Most court clerks are very helpful in guiding you along. In Town or Village Court, if your claim is for $1,000 or less, the filing fee is $10. If over $1,000, the filing fee is $15. In City Court, the filing fee is $15 for $1,000 or less and $20 for claims over $1,000.

The form to start a Small Claims action is typically pretty short. Your statement for cause of action should be brief and to the point. It should include a description of the incident that is at the heart of your claim, including all relevant names and dates.

Once you file this form with the clerk, a date and time will be provided. The clerk will then serve the notice of claim by mailing it to the defendant my both first-class mail and by certified mail. If the notice sent by first-class mail is not returned to the post office within 21 days as undeliverable, the defendant is deemed served, even if the notice sent by certified mail has not been delivered.

Once the defendant is deemed served, the parties come to court on the given date and plead their case. As you can imagine, a lot can happen once the parties go before the judge. It is the judge alone who will decide the outcome of the case. With a Small Claims action, there is no jury.

Stay tuned for part 2 of this blog, which will discuss trial preparation, strategies, counterclaims, adjournments, and collection of judgment.
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