After you have prepared a demand letter and sent it to the party that you intend to sue, you are probably ready to file your lawsuit in small claims court. There are many practical considerations to evaluate when preparing to file your claim. The first step is determining the appropriate court in which to file. Each county jurisdiction will maintain its own small claims court department. If a particular county is large enough, it may be further divided into different locations. Typically, a small claims court case must be filed in the county and court location in which the defendant resides. There are some exceptions to this rule, and they vary according to each court’s rules. As a result, you should be sure to check a court’s local rules and follow any specific procedures provided therein.
Common Exceptions to the Residency Rule
Auto accident cases: may be filed where the accident happened, as well as where the defendant resides
Contract disputes: may be filed where the agreement was made, as well as where the defendant resides
Deciding Where to File
If you have an option regarding where to file your claim, you should perform general research about each court. Some courts are busier than others, which may affect the timeframe in which your claim is heard. Many claims, however, are subject to a statute of limitations, which requires you to file your claim within a specific period of time. Statutes of limitations vary for different claims, and they can even vary between states and jurisdictions. Ultimately, a statute of limitations is designed to ensure that a claim is filed within a reasonable period of time after the accident or incident occurred. As time progresses after an accident or incident, witnesses forget details, the facts become unclear, and evidence may be lost or disappear.
After you have figured out where to file your claim and the appropriate time limitation, the next step is acquiring the necessary forms to file your claim. Most small claims court websites will provide forms for filing a claim along with additional resources to aid claimants through the process. If the plaintiff wishes to file a claim as a business, the business representative may be required to file a form attesting that the business has complied with the state’s fictitious business name laws and registration requirements.
Who is the Defendant?
Naming the defendant in a claim is an important step. In most cases, the defendant will be either an individual or a business. If the defendant is an individual, simply list the individual’s name. If the defendant is a business, it may be a good idea to list the business entity and the name of the owner or representative with whom you made an agreement. If two or more people own the business, the safer option is to include both names. The court has the authority to dismiss any wrongfully named parties from the accident. It is much more difficult, however, to join someone to a lawsuit after the statute of limitations has passed.
Once you have filled out the necessary paperwork, be prepared to pay a filing fee with the small claims court. After the claim is filed, someone will need to notify the defendant that they have been named in a small claims court action. This is called service of process, and it must be completed before the action can progress.
Amending a Claim
If you discover new information after filing your claim, most jurisdictions will allow you to file an amendment to your claim. This typically involves filling out a new form and arranging for service on the defendant.