Small Claims Court and Why it May Work For You
There are countless things that occur in our lives that have legal significance. Often we ignore them until they have a negative or potentially negative effect on us. Sometimes we have situations that we just cannot resolve and a resort to the court system is necessary. First and foremost, determine if you need a lawyer to represent you in your case. Note there are many cases in which legal representation will not provide a true economic cost-benefit for the client. This is often due to the amount of money the attorney would have to devote to the case and, consequently, charge as a fee for the handling of the case. For example, consider the economic utility and feasability of hiring an attorney at a fee of $500.00 to pursue a case in which you stand to recover a maximum of $1,000.00 and there is no possibility of the court awarding an attorney fee. You stand to “lose” half of your recovery by hiring an attorney. If the issues in your case are not complex and you have confidence in your ability to present your case does it make “dollars and cents sense’ to hire an attorney in this situation?
If you have determined that you cannot or will not have a lawyer represent you the next question becomes where to file your case. In North Carolina (and virtually every jurisdiction in the United States) there is a Small Claims Court system designed to mete out justice in cases which do not involve large amounts of money or complicated legal issues. Small Claims Court in North Carolina is limited to cases where the amount of money sought does not exceed $5,000.00. Cases commonly handled in Small Claims Court include landlord-tenant disputes and eviction proceedings, motor vehicle repair issues, money owed, and recovery of personal property. In North Carolina you must file your Small Claims Court in the county in which the defendant (or at least one of them) resides or does business.
As to the next question of how to file your case do not worry…some cases you can handle on your own with some research and preparation. While the rules of evidence and civil procedure may be relaxed a bit in Small Claims Court it pays to do your homework. It can help in the presentation of your case and could be the difference-maker in a close case. Be sure to read the North Carolina General Statutes provisions regarding Small Claims Court procedure and some substance. For information on how to prepare your case for Small Claims Court read the free online guide prepared by Legal Aid of North Carolina. And LawHelp.org maintains a nice webpage of legal self-help materials for North Carolinians. Nolo.com has resources for the pro-se individual contemplating Small Claims Court.
Small Claims is the formal name of the court but it by no means indicates the matters involved are small to the parties. Significance is not necessarily determined by money. If you have a case which you seek to pursue and Small Claims is your best option prepare and go forth!