Checklist for Plaintiffs and Defendants in a Small Claims Action

Some initial stage questions to ask if you are involved in a lawsuit

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Here is a checklist of initial stage questions you will want to think about as a plaintiff or defendant in a small claims case. Even at this preliminary stage, you should have a copy of your local small claims court rules and be familiar with some basics about small claims court cases.

Initial Stage Questions for a Plaintiff

  • 1. Do you have a good case? That is, can you establish or prove all the key pieces of your claim? Do you have legal grounds to win a contract, debt, property damage, or other type of case you are planning on bringing?
  • 2. How many dollars is your claim for? If it is for more than the small claims maximum, do you wish to waive the excess and still use small claims court?
  • 3. Have you made a reasonable effort to contact the other party to offer a compromise?
  • 4. Are you within the deadline by which you must file your suit?
  • 5. Whom do you sue and how do you identify this person or business on your court papers? In some types of cases, especially those involving businesses and automobiles, this can be a little more technical and tricky than you might have guessed.
  • 6. Which small claims court should you bring your suit in?
  • 7. If mediation is offered or encouraged by your small claims court, do you understand how it works and how best to use it? (See Chapter 6.)
  • 8. Can you prove your case? That is, do you understand what evidence you need to bring to court to convince a judge you should prevail?
  • 9. Can you make a convincing courtroom presentation?
  • 10. And, the most important question: Assuming you can win, is there a reasonable chance you can collect?

Initial Stage Questions for a Defendant

  • 1. Do you have legal grounds for a countersuit against the plaintiff? Or put another way, does the plaintiff really owe you money instead of the other way around?
  • 2. Do you have a partial or complete defense against the plaintiff's claim? Or put another way, has the plaintiff filed a bogus lawsuit?
  • 3. Is the plaintiff's money demand reasonable, or excessive?
  • 4. Has the plaintiff brought the suit within the proper time limit?
  • 5. Has the plaintiff followed reasonably correct procedures in bringing suit and delivering the court papers to you?
  • 6. If mediation is offered or encouraged by your small claims court, 
do you understand how it works and how to use it?
  • 7. Have you made a reasonable effort to contact the plaintiff in order to arrive at a compromise settlement?
  • 8. Assuming you'll fight the case in court, you'll normally need proof that your version of events is correct. Can you collect evidence and witnesses to accomplish this?
  • 9. Are you prepared to present your side of the case convincingly in court? 

If you are a defendant in a lawsuit, you may want to file your own lawsuit. In addition to their right to defend themselves, defendants also have the opportunity to file their own case against the plaintiff. If you are sued, you'll want to do this if you believe that you lost money due to the same events the plaintiff is complaining about and the plaintiff is legally responsible for your loss. Defendants' claims commonly develop out of a situation in which both parties are negligent (for example, in a car accident) and the question is who was more at fault. If your claim is for less than the small claims court maximum, you can file there. But if it is for more, you will want to check your state's rules. Typically, you'll learn that you should file your case in a different court (and have your opponent's case transferred there), but your state may use a different system.

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