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Small Claims Court Defense

The most important defense begins by responding to the small claims court notice! DO NOT ignore the notice or the court may just award the Plaintiff a "Judgment by Default" for the full amount of the claim, plus the filing fee and costs of serving the notice on you.

Try to find out how strong the plaintiff's case is. Are they on solid legal ground? If so, settling out of court may be a better option rather than risk a judgment. But, if you feel going to court is your best option, then do yourself a favor and visit the court house ahead of time. Become familiar with the room where you'll have to defend yourself. In fact, take an hour or two and watch several small claims court cases. You'll be amazed at how many people lose their case because they are unprepared!

The two most important rules:

RULE #1: ALWAYS go to court prepared to WIN by providing the judge with "Proof of your Case" - present facts NOT emotions! Put the facts in writing and present them in a logical but brief and succinct manner. Prepare copies of all pertinent documents for the judge.

RULE #2: Is your defense LEGAL? Before spending time and effort trying to win, be sure that you are on solid legal ground. Just because you think something is wrong, unethical, or immoral, does not mean the law treats it that way. Do your homework! Check with the court clerk, look it up in your local library or ask an attorney.

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The three primary methods of responding to any small claims court notice are:

Up Defending Yourself in Court

First, recognize that judges decide many cases on the same day as yours so you MUST be prepared to present your defense in a brief, concise and very clear manner!

Up Preparing for the court hearing:

Collect and make certified copies of all possible documents and evidence; such as letters, lease agreements and receipts of payments, canceled checks, photographs, work orders, repair statements, promissory notes, written contracts or other documents that are pertinent to your case.

Arrange for any witnesses to attend the trial and be sure they are notified in writing of the time, date and location. Remember, witnesses must have personal knowledge of the facts they are asked to testify about and they cannot be forced to testify (must come voluntarily). Provide them with a copy of the Notice of Small Claims Form.

Write down all the important facts of your case in chronological order. This helps you prepare and it ensures you do not forget anything during the hearing. Remember, the judge is extremely busy and expects you to be prepared to present your case as quickly and clearly as possible.

Consider attending a small claims court trial a few days before yours to get a feel for the court's process. Anyone under 18 years of age must be represented by a parent, guardian or friend over 18 at the hearing.

Up Presentation of Evidence

Upon arriving at the courtroom, inform court clerk who you are and that you are ready for trial. When your case is called you'll be sworn in along with the plaintiff, other defendants and witnesses.

The Plaintiff goes first and when finished, the judge will ask for your side. Be brief and to the point by providing "just the facts" supported by solid evidence and avoid unwarranted emotion. Provide the Judge with any papers or evidence that support your case and ask the judge to allow your witnesses to testify.

Throughout the hearing, remain polite, do not interrupt the other party or the judge and especially do not get angry or show a temper to the court.

Up Counterclaim

If you have a claim against the Plaintiff, arrange to have it resolved at the same trial. This may serve two purposes: nullifying the plaintiff's claim, and in the case of plaintiffs unwilling to settle out of court, forcing the plaintiff to reconsider your offer.

If you wish to make a counterclaim, you must file a Notice of Small Claim Form with the district court where the trial will be held and you also must notify the Plaintiff (just like you were notified). Small claims court filing procedures

Note: Filing a counterclaim may eliminate the option to Appeal the judgment/decision

Important Notes:

  1. If the plaintiff does not appear for the hearing, the case will be dismissed without prejudice which means you can file it again.
  2. If you fail to appear, the judge will ask the plaintiff to provide proof that the Notice of Claim Form was properly delivered to you and if it was, the judge will enter "default judgment" for the amount of the claim against you!