A small claims court is a place to seek damages if you've been bitten by the neighbor's dog, or had your favorite vintage sweater ruined by an unscrupulous dry cleaning company. However, there are certain issues that cannot legally be resolved in a small claims court. Additionally, small claims courts impose limits to the amount of money you can sue a defendant for. Ultimately, if you're considering filing a lawsuit in a small claim's court, there are a few things to understand about the process, as well as what does and doesn't qualify as a small claim.
The actual dollar amount that you can sue for in a small claims court varies by state. In general, though, the amount is typically limited to between $2,500 and $7,000 dollars, with a few states having limits as high as $15,000. In Tennessee, you can sue for up to $25,000 in a small claims court, with no limit to lawsuits concerning evictions or the recovery of personal property. Still, in other states eviction and other tenant/landlord lawsuits cannot be brought to small claims court.
What Cases Qualify In Small Claims Court
As already mentioned, states differ regarding the types of cases they consider appropriate for small claims court. All states permit lawsuits on the basis of personal property and motor vehicle damage. Lawsuits may also be based on breach of contract disputes or personal injury. However, cases that are not permitted in a small claims court include those related to divorce or bankruptcy. Lawsuits related to libel or slander are also prohibited. Finally, lawsuits where the defendant is either the federal government, a representative of the government, or a federal agency are prohibited from small claims court.
Unlike traditional courtroom settings, lawyers are prohibited from participating in small claims lawsuits in many states. Conversely, some states only allow an attorney to represent the defendant or plaintiff if the attorney works for a company represented by either party. Still, other states only allow legal counsel if both parties agree in writing to have lawyers present during their hearing. In other states, lawyers are required if either party in the dispute represents a company with more than one million dollars in assets. The laws vary greatly on this matter, so it is important to check the laws in your state before you enlist professional assistance.
In the end, the decision to file in a small claims court is dictated by a number of factors, including the dollar amount you feel you deserve, the type of case you have, and your desire or need for legal counsel.