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Articles > Small Claims Court > Individual against a Business

Small Claims Court Suit Filed by an Individual against a Business

By : David Smith
Published here : Nov 13, 2015
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The most common reasons for individuals to sue a business are breach of contract, damage to property and personal injury. There are many who take their business disputes to small claims courts attracted by the rising small claims court dollar limits. It is much easier and cheaper to resolve a business dispute in these courts.

The amount that you can hope to recover from these courts varies from state to state, but the maximum dollar limit set in most states (including California) is $10,000. Suing a business in a small claims court is both uncomplicated and inexpensive, and you get the results pretty quick.

Although the process is much simpler in these courts, the law is just the same, as it is in regular courts. So a case that doesn’t stand a chance in a regular court won’t amount to much in a small claims court either.

Let’s look at how to file a lawsuit against a business in a small claims court:

#1: Visit the small claims court in the county where the business is located or where the problem has occurred. Request a complaint form from the court clerk and fill it up with all the details in the “plaintiff” section, such as your name and address.  Explain why you’re suing and the amount that you hope to recover. State the expenses and losses suffered and the reasons for the same.

#2:  In the “defendant” section, enter the legal name and address of the business that you’re suing. If it’s a corporation, enter the legal name if the corporation, its registered agent and the names of the business partners. You can ask the county clerk for the business’ legal name in case you’re not sure about it.

#3: Submit the application to the county clerk, pay the filing fee; this should be around $50. The court sends the summons to the defendant on your behalf in most states. In some states, as a plaintiff, you’ll have to notify the defendant yourself through a sheriff’s deputy or a private process server. Or you can just send the summons to the defendant by certified mail. Each of the business partners should receive a copy of the summons and a response form.

#4: In most states, the defendant should send a response within 14 days of receiving the claim. The defendant has to option of paying the claim – in which case they should send a proof of the same to the court. They can also choose to deny the claim and request a hearing. They have the option of denying the claim, filing a countersuit and requesting a hearing. They can even deny the claim and request a jury trial.  If the defendant does not respond in time, you can file a request for a default judgment. This allows you to collect your claim from the business immediately.

#5: If the business decides to fight the case in court, you’ll have a plenty of work to do, such as gathering evidence to support your case during the hearing. You will need proof such as the signed contract, copies of email correspondence with the business and voice mail recordings, if any. It would help your case a lot if you’re able to present neutral witnesses as well.

#6: Present the case before a judge in the small claims court on the day scheduled for the hearing. Each side is allowed to present supporting evidence and witnesses, if any.  While presenting your case, stick to the facts, and don’t get into an argument with the defendant. Don’t get emotional; just state the facts of the case as clearly as possible. It is important to come across as professional and businesslike in your conduct in the court hearing.

#7: The court may deliver a judgment just a few minutes after your testimony or take a couple of days to arrive at one, in which case you’ll be sent the judgment by mail. If the judgment is in your favor, you can collect your claim from the business. For your own safety, you can ask for protection from the sheriff’s department while collecting the money from the business. 

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