Small claims actions are a user-friendly, easy-to-navigate mechanism that individuals can use, even when they believe that their potential recovery may be minimal. In New York State, a small claims court may award claimants up to $5,000.00 (in some courts $3,000.00). What follows are answers to questions that many clients typically ask when considering whether to initiate such actions.
CAN THE COURT HEAR MY CASE?
Small claims courts can her a number of different actions (e.g., breach of contract, negligence, etc.), as long as the relief sought does not exceed the court’s monetary limit.
HOW DO I INITIATE A SMALL CLAIMS ACTION?
Small claims actions are initiated by filing a “statement of claim” with the court clerk. Filing fees usually range from $15.00 to $20.00.
The suit must be filed where the defendant resides, works, or has an office. Otherwise, the claim may be dismissed.
Within five days of commencing the claim, the clerk’s office will mail a “notice of claim” to the defendant’s mailing address stating the nature of the claim, the date of trial, and the place of trial.
By filing a statement of claim, the claimant waives his or her right to a jury trial, however a defendant could be entitled to have the matter heard before a jury if he or she elects to pay the relevant fee, posts an undertaking, or deposits $50.00 with the court and submits a sworn statement framing the issues to be determined by a jury.
While the rules of evidence are relaxed in small claims actions, trial proceeds as if it would in any other action. Parties are permitted to produce witnesses and other evidence in support of their claims and/or defenses.
If the court is satisfied, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the claimant is entitled to the relief sought, it will award the claimant a favorable judgment. If the court is not satisfied that the claimant is entitled to relief, the action will be decided in favor of the defendant and then dismissed.
SHOULD I RETAIN AN ATTORNEY?
A party in a small claims action must always consider a cost-benefit analysis when determining whether or not to proceed with or without an attorney.
As a small claim court’s decision rests on substantive law, as well as the strength of the evidence provided, there is always an added benefit in retaining an experienced attorney.
While an attorney is not required, hiring a lawyer can give your case a strong presentation and edge.
At The Law Offices of David Fried, PC, our attorneys are experienced litigators who have secured substantial victories for our clients. Whether you have been defrauded, sustained injuries, or have been damaged in some other way, please feel welcome to contact our office to schedule a FREE consultation.
"Mr. Fried and his staff were impeccably professional and knowledgeable. They were patient and answered all of my questions, and I received prompt responses to all calls and emails. I also appreciate how well they explained the legal proceedings of my case to me. Thanks to their efforts, my case was resolved with a favorable outcome. Overall, I am very pleased with the quality of service I've received and would absolutely recommend this firm."
— Y. Chun
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