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Small Claims Court: An Overview

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Going to court is not an experience most of us look forward to, but even if heading in front of a judge is something you dread, it is vitally important for people everywhere to know their rights and know what to expect if you find yourself heading to small claims court. Most people have heard of small claims court but they aren’t quite sure how it works or what is involved in a small claims court proceeding. Let’s take a look at what small claims court is for and what you will have to do to prepare yourself for an appearance in front of the judge. Before we start, it is extremely important to note that state law dictates much of what goes on in small claims court, which means that your experience, rules and format may differ depending on the state you call home.

In short, small claims court is used to resolve disputes between private citizens for small amounts of money. Although each state has its own limit on how much money can be at stake with a small claims case, the limit is usually set at $5,000. According to recent statistics, the overwhelming majority of cases brought to small claims court in the United States represent tenant/landlord disputes as well as disputes over small amounts of money, sometimes only a few hundred dollars.

Agreeing to go to small claims court can limit your rights depending on where you live. In some states, trying your claim in small claims court means that this is the end of the line for your claim and you give up the right to try your case in a more formal court of law, while other states give the right of appeal so that any decision can be tried in a higher court. Make sure you understand the laws in your area before you being your court proceedings.

In general, most small claims court proceedings don’t need lawyers. The entire small claims court system is set up with the idea of keeping things as simple and straight forward as possible and in most cases, people represent themselves. The only time one can really expect to see a lawyer in small claims court is if a corporation is involved since they have them on staff already.

Along with lawyers, you also seldom see juries, although there are exceptions. Most, if not all, decisions are made by the judge presiding over the case.

In some states, the parties involved may be asked to use a third party arbitrator instead of a traditional judge in small claims court. This is to help save time and expense as most small claims court dockets are extremely busy. In states where arbitration isn’t available, many counties have booklets or information available to the general public for resolving difficult cases outside of the court system.

Small claims court is a necessary and important part of the United States court system that is used each and every day to solve minor disputes from coast to coast.

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