A significant number of small claims cases involve a breach of contract. To win a breach of contract case in small claims court, you’ll need to establish that:
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, Avery asks Blake to paint his kitchen for $3,000, and Blake agrees.
The agreement can be written, oral, or implied from the circumstances. Breach of contract cases end up in small claims court when one of the contract parties fails to perform according to the terms of the agreement.
Find out about other case types filed frequently in small claims court.
Small claims breach of contract cases often involve a failure to pay money owed. Hardly a day goes by in any small claims court when someone isn't sued for failing to pay a friend, relative, or a local small business.
In many situations, getting a money judgment for an unpaid debt involves no more than stating that the defendant made a commitment to buy certain goods or services, that the plaintiff provided the services, and that a legitimate bill for X dollars remains unpaid.
As a plaintiff, you’ll likely need to prove:
Find out about tips that could help you win your small claims case.
If you are a defendant and believe you have a good defense, you might argue that:
If fraud is present as part of a transaction, the judge can cancel the deal and refund your money. Fraud can be:
Also, 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. To learn about these and similar defenses, look into the rights afforded by consumer protection laws.
Learn more about defenses to a breach of contract action.
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 the terms through witness testimony and other evidence. Be creative–if you lent money to a debtor using a check, bring a copy. Along with your 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 usually easy 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 did lose this amount. Presenting estimates, valuations, and other supporting documentation will go far toward proving damages. And remember, if you don’t prove that you lost money as a result of the breach, you won’t receive a money judgment—even if the breach of contract is clear.
Find out more by reading Your Day in Small Claims Court: What to Expect.