Before filing your claim, you should have some idea what your chances are of collecting the judgment if you are successful. A judgment does not mean automatic payment. It simply means you have proven to the satisfaction of the court that the person you sued owes you money. There are often cases where a judgment is not particularly difficult to obtain but the collection of money is difficult, if not impossible.
The party you have sued may be penniless or bankrupt; may have gone out of business or left town; may not earn enough for you to garnishee wages; or for other reasons, it may be impossible to make the defendant pay. Income such as welfare, unemployment, social security, etc, cannot be garnished. If you cannot collect, a judgment in your favor may turn out to be a hollow victory. However, you do have 6 years to collect and a party's circumstances may change during that time.
Points to Consider
The Court is only a tool that is available to you for settling disputes or establishing and reducing your claims to judgment. You are responsible for locating the parties, determining your course of action, gathering your witnesses and evidence.
While the staff of this Court will try to help either party to an action, you must understand that:
- Our clerks are not attorneys and they cannot give legal advice.
- The Judges/Magistrate, who are attorneys, may not and will not give advice on matters they may have to rule on.
- This Court can render money judgments only, and has no power to force anyone to do something or to stop doing something.
By having your case tried in Small Claims Division, you give up the following rights:
- The right to have an attorney.
- The right to appeal to a higher court.
- The right to a jury trial.
However, the defendant may not choose to give up these rights. If he refuses, he can demand before or at the time of the hearing, that the case be transferred to the General Civil Division. Then, either side may hire an attorney, request a trial, and have the right to appeal. (Note: If the matter is removed from Small Claims, Corporations and Partnerships must be represented by an Attorney.)
Settlement Prior To Hearing Date
Settlement prior to a hearing date is greatly encouraged by the Court. Often the defendant may want to settle out of court before the hearing date. If the claim is paid, you must notify the court in writing that you want to dismiss the case. Please include your case number.
Plan to arrive at the Court a few minutes early. Your case Number and name will be listed on the bulletin board. You must bring all paperwork/evidence to prove your claim such as:
- Accident Reports
- Bills of Sale
- Promissory Notes
- Repair Estimates, etc.
A copy must be provided for each defendant and a copy for the court file. No adjournments will be granted to permit you to bring this at a later date.
On the Hearing Date
One of several things may occur on the hearing date:
- The defendant may appear, refuse to proceed in the Small Claims Division or request that the case be transferred to the Civil Division. This is his legal right. He must then file an answer in writing within 14 days of the transfer and a pre-trial date will be set.
- The defendant may appear, and admit liability for your claim. A consent judgment will then be entered.
- The defendant may fail to appear. If he has had proper service and you can prove to the court you have a proper claim, a default judgment will then may be entered.
- The defendant may appear, disagree with the claim, agree to have it heard in the Small Claims Division and trial will be held.
- If service has been made and 1) neither the plaintiff nor the defendant appear, or 2) the defendant appears but the plaintiff does not, the claim will be dismissed by the court.
All small claims are scheduled for the same time. The Judge/Magistrate may have several or very few cases to hear. This is difficult to determine prior to hearing time. If you arrive on time and have all your witnesses and evidence ready, it will help him settle your claim promptly.
During the Trial
When the Judge/Magistrate calls your case, the defendant and all witnesses will be sworn in. The hearing is an informal matter. Do not try to play lawyer; just state your claim as simply as possible. If necessary, refer to the papers or evidence you have brought with you. If you furnished copies for the court file, the Judge/Magistrate can follow along.
The person you are suing will then have an opportunity to tell the Judge/Magistrate why he feels he does not owe you that claim. After all the testimony and evidence have been presented, the Judge/Magistrate will render his decision. If either party disagrees with the Magistrate's decision, they have 7 days to appeal.
Collecting Money From A Small Claims Judgment
If you sued someone for money and received a judgment against that person, you have the right to collect the money.