A significant number of small claims cases involve breach of contract cases. A contract is any agreement between individuals or businesses in which one side agrees to do something for the other in exchange for something in return. For example, A asks B to paint his kitchen for $3,000 and B agrees. The agreement can be written or oral (in most situations), or implied from the circumstances. These cases end up in small claims court when one of the parties to the contract fails to perform in accordance with the terms of the agreement.
In order to win a breach of contract case, you will need to establish that:
Small claims breach of contract cases often involve disputes where one party fails to pay money. Hardly a day goes by in any small claims court when someone isn't sued for failing to pay the phone company, the local hospital, a friend (former, probably), a relative, or even late fines to the public library. In many situations, getting a judgment for an unpaid debt involves no more than stating that the defendant made a commitment to buy certain goods or services, that they were, in fact, provided, and that a legitimate bill for X dollars has not been paid.
As a plaintiff, you must normally prove:
If you are a defendant and believe you have a good defense, you'll normally need to prove:
If you are sued because you owe money to a company from which you bought consumer goods or consumer services, research your state's consumer protection laws. Also, if a seller of consumer goods or services violates a consumer protection law, then you may be able to get your money back or cancel your deal with no obligation to pay.
If fraud is present as part of a transaction, the deal can be canceled and your money refunded. Fraud can be:
If you make certain types of purchases under certain conditions, you may have a "cooling-off" period under federal law or state law during which you can cancel the contract or sale.
Failure to Perform
Sometimes, a breach of contract suit results not from a refusal to pay a bill, but because one party claims that the other failed to carry out one or more of the terms of a contract. Such would be the case if:
In court, you'll need to convince the judge that the contract existed. If the contract is in writing, bring it to court. If it's oral, be prepared to prove its existence through witnesses and circumstantial evidence. Be creative–if you lent money to a debtor using a check, bring a copy. Along with your own testimony that the borrower promised to repay you, this should be all you need to establish the existence of a contract.
Damages resulting from a breach of contract are normally not difficult to prove. After you show that the contract existed and that the other party failed to meet its terms, you should testify as to the dollar amount of damages you have suffered as a result. And when appropriate, you'll also need to introduce evidence to convince the judge that you really did lose this amount.