Small Claims Court Answers For Individuals And Businesses
If you are a small-business owner, customers who do not pay their accounts on time are a drain on your business. If you are tired of trying to collect those delinquent accounts, I, attorney Roberta A. Heckes, may be able to help you collect those delinquent accounts from deadbeat customers and improve your profitability.
Prior to becoming a lawyer, I worked at a small trucking company. Part of my job included collecting payment from trucking freight brokers across the country. In a four-year period, I collected 100 percent of the freight broker accounts due to my employer. Prior to that time, the company lost an average of $15,000/year from freight brokers who did not want to pay for the hard work of the truck drivers who hauled their freight.
I will work as hard for your business to use my legal skills to try to collect the money that delinquent customers owe you. You deserve to have an attorney who will work hard to collect the money due to you.
As explained below, not everyone is collectable. I can work with you to help you decide which delinquent accounts should be pursued with a small claims action and which accounts may not be cost-effective to pursue. I always try to help clients work through this decision. Many times a letter to a delinquent client will motivate them to pay the account or make payment arrangements to clear their delinquent account. I will work with you to take efficient steps to get you the money you have coming to you.
Can any kind of case be resolved in small claims court?
No. Small claims courts primarily resolve small monetary disputes, and in a few states, evictions and restitution of property. No state allows you to use small claims court to file a divorce, guardianship, name change or bankruptcy, or to ask for emergency relief (such as an injunction to stop someone from doing an illegal act).
Are there time limits in which a small claims court case must be filed?
Yes. States establish rules called “statutes of limitations” that dictate how long you may wait to initiate a lawsuit after the event giving rise to the lawsuit occurs. Statutes of limitations rules apply to all courts, including small claims.
How much can I sue for in small claims court?
The limit is normally between $3,000 and $10,000, depending on your state. For instance, the maximum is $10,000 in Wisconsin and New York, $7,500 in California, $7,500 in Minnesota and $3,500 in Vermont. Recently, there has been a trend toward increasing small claims court limits.
Where should I file my small claims lawsuit?
Assuming the other party lives or does business in your state, rules normally require that you sue in the small claims court district closest to that person’s residence or headquarters. In some instances, you also may be able to sue in the circuit court where a contract was signed or a personal injury occurred (such as an auto accident). If a defendant has no contact with your state or county, you will generally have to sue in the state or county where the defendant lives or does business. Because of the distance involved, out-of-state small claims lawsuits tend to be expensive and unwieldy.
What can I do to resolve my problem without going to small claims court?
If you want what’s owed to you, but you don’t want to bring a lawsuit, you have a couple of options. First, make a demand in the form of a straightforward letter, concluding with the statement that you’ll file in small claims court in 10 days unless payment is promptly received.
Mediation may help you resolve the dispute. Mediation works best when the parties have an interest in staying on good terms, as is generally the case with neighbors, family members or small business people who have done business together for many years. This type of dispute resolution can be remarkably successful.
Will I get paid if I win the lawsuit?
Not necessarily. The court may decide in your favor, but it won’t handle collection for you. So before you sue, always ask, “Can I collect if I win?” If not, think twice before suing.
Ask yourself whether the person you’re suing has a steady job, valuable real property, or investments. If so, it should be reasonably easy to collect by garnishing his wages if you win.
But some people and businesses are “judgment proof” — that is, they have little money and few assets and aren’t likely to acquire much in the foreseeable future. If they do not pay voluntarily, you may have a hard time collecting your judgment. You may need to file a garnishment on their wages after obtaining a judgment in order to collect. For people who have no job or assets, ask whether they are likely to be more solvent in the future since court judgments are good for 10 to 20 years in many states and can usually be renewed for longer. You’ll want to consider now whether the person might inherit money, graduate from college and get a good job, or otherwise have an economic turn-around sometime down the road.