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CostHelper > Personal Finance  > Legal > Small Claims Court

Small Claims Court Cost


How Much Does Small Claims Court Cost?

 
average costMedium: Fees Typically $20-$50high costHigh: Fees Can Run $220 or More
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Small Claims Court is intended to resolve simple disputes quickly and relatively inexpensively, in a more informal setting than other types of litigation -- and usually without involving lawyers. Also called County Court or Magistrate's Court, Small Claims Courts only hear complaints up to a maximum value that ranges from $2,500-$15,000, depending on state law.

Typical costs:

  • Filing fees average $30-$50, but can run $10-$220 or more depending on location and the amount of money involved in the claim.
  • You may also be required to send the person you're suing formal notice by certified mail or by a law enforcement officer or a process server, which could add another $10-$100 or more. However, if you win your case, you can recover all these court costs.
  • Some states allow lawyers in Small Claims Court but a few prohibit them. Even if lawyers are allowed, having an attorney represent you at an hourly rate of $100-$300 and up quickly totals more than the maximum amount of money awarded in Small Claims Court. Some people who choose to represent themselves first consult with a lawyer about state laws, strategy, tactics and other issues before filing a Small Claims Court complaint; this consultation can run $100-$500 or more depending on the time involved and the complexity of the case. However, the basic idea of small claims court is to resolve disputes without involving lawyers.
Related articles: Property Damage Lawsuit, Car Accident Lawsuit, Dog Bite Lawsuit, Slip and Fall Lawsuit

What should be included:
  • Small Claims Court cases involve money, such as failure to repay a loan, or failure to repair a car or other major appliance properly, or landlord-tenant disputes, debt collection or breach of warranty (when an item doesn't work as it's supposed to). Small Claims Court cannot be used for divorce, bankruptcy, guardianship or criminal cases, or suits against the federal government.
  • It's best to first try to settle the dispute yourself. Often a Small Claims Court judge will want to see written evidence (such as a letter) that you tried to resolve the problem before coming to court. Lawyers.com offers short summaries of the small claims court rules[1] for each state.
  • Prepare your case carefully, so you can present your facts clearly with supporting documentation. The American Bar Association gives a detailed overview[2] of the small claims court process and Nolo Press describes how to present testimony and evidence in Small Claims Court.
  • The person who files the Small Claims Court complaint is the plaintiff; the person being sued is the defendant, and the amount of money awarded by the judge is the judgment. Lawers.com provides definitions[3] of common Small Claims Court terms as well as a checklist[4] for defending a small claims case.
  • If you don't like the judge's decision, many states allow either party to appeal a Small Claims Court ruling, usually within 10-30 days; some states permit jury trials for these appeals. Nolo Press explains how to appeal a Small Claims Court case.
Additional costs:
  • If you win, Small Claims Court does not collect the money for you. You have to do that yourself, and there could be additional filing fees for a lien or to garnish wages[5] .
  • Nolo Press offers an e-guide on how to Settle Your Small Claims Dispute Without Going to Court for $15.95, and the book, Everybody's Guide to Small Claims Court, which retails for $29.99.
  • In some states, the defendant has the right to request a transfer to regular civil court, with both sides represented by attorneys.
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External Resources:
  1.  consumer-law.lawyers.com/US-Small-Claims-Court/Small-Claims-Court-In-Your-State.html
  2.  apps.americanbar.org/abastore/products/books/abstracts/2350234_ch5.pdf
  3.  consumer-law.lawyers.com/US-Small-Claims-Court/Small-Claims-Court-Terms.html
  4.  consumer-law.lawyers.com/US-Small-Claims-Court/Defending-A-Small-Claims-Case.html
  5.  www.allbusiness.com/legal/litigation/4134-1.html
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