Question: What is small claims court for? Do I need a lawyer to go to small claims court?
Answer: According to Derek de Bakker, an attorney at Foster Pepper PLLC, a person can sue another person in small claims court provided the amount being sought does not exceed $4,000. Lawyers are generally excluded from participating in small claims action unless granted permission by a judge. Examples of cases that may be brought in small claims court include loaning someone money and never being repaid, not being paid for your services and someone wrongfully damaging your property.
To begin a suit in small claims court, go to the county courthouse in which the person whom you are suing (the defendant) lives. For example, if you and the defendant live in Seattle, file your claim at the King County Courthouse. However, if you live in Seattle and the defendant lives in Everett, file your claim in the Snohomish County Courthouse. At the courthouse, you must file a claim with the clerk, who will provide you with a “Notice of Small Claim Form” that you must complete and sign. The clerk will then provide you with a hearing date, trial date or response date. You must provide the court with the defendant’s accurate address. The clerk cannot give you legal advice.
Next, the form needs to be served (or given) to the defendant at least 10 days before the first hearing. You can not personally serve the defendant, but the sheriff, a professional service person or someone over the age of 18 not connected with the case can serve the defendant. Alternatively, you can mail the form, but it must be sent by certified or registered mail. You are required to supply proof of service to the court. If you mailed the form, you must have a return receipt that shows that the defendant received the mail. To prepare for your case, collect all relevant documents such as checks, bank statements, photographs, receipts, estimates and any other documents or proof. If you have witnesses, ask them to testify on your behalf. Write down the facts of the case in the order they occurred, so that you are prepared to appear in front of the judge.
On the day of the hearing, you may be asked if you would like to have your dispute mediated. Mediation will take the place of a hearing and is less formal than having your dispute heard by a judge. If you choose mediation, you will sit down with the other party and a mediator (usually a volunteer attorney) and present your evidence. The mediator will attempt to have the parties come to an agreement or settlement. If that does not work, the mediator issues a decision based on the parties’ presentation. That judgment will be final and enforceable.
More information about small claims court can be found in a small claims pamphlet provided at any county courthouse and online at http://www.courts.wa.gov/newsinfo/ under “Informational Brochures.”
Answers are intended for general information only and are not intended to take the place of the advice of your own attorney. Ask a Lawyer is in partnership with the Access to Justice Institute at Seattle University and Foster Pepper PLLC. Got questions? E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.