Presenting your case in front of a small claims court judge can be stressful. But there are ways to combat the nerves. The easiest way is to come to court with a well-organized gameplan. For instance, you'll want to be sure that you prepare:
For answers to common small claims court questions, see Small Claims Court FAQ.
It's essential that you organize your case ahead of time. One way to do this is by dividing the witness testimony—both yours and the testimony of anyone else you bring—into a list of the several main points you want to make. In many cases, it's best to have written questions so that you don't struggle with phrasing while under pressure.
Make sure to indicate where you plan to introduce any documents or other physical evidence you wish to show the judge. Your witness will need to testify as to the authenticity of the document. For instance, you might testify that a copy of a letter is a true and correct copy of the demand letter you sent to the defendant (the person being sued) requesting payment.
It's a good idea to have at least three copies of each document. You'll have to give one to the judge, one to the opposing side, and one the court clerk. Organize the evidence in the order that you'll present it so that you can find each item quickly.
Learn more about offering witness testimony.
Let's assume a hotel's failed to return your deposit when you canceled a wedding reception three months before the event was to be held. This would be a small claims breach of contract case—a type of case regularly brought before a small claims court.
If you're the plaintiff, you will present your case first. Here is a list of what your key points—and the evidence to back them up—might look like:
Find out about other common types of small court cases.
A defendant must wait to present until after the plaintiff finishes doing so. A defendant can't know in advance what the plaintiff will say and what evidence the plaintiff will present until hearing the evidence. Thus, Valley View, like any other defendant, will need to adopt a little more flexible approach.
Still, because Valley View representatives have probably talked to or exchanged letters with the plaintiff, they probably have a pretty good idea of what to expect. Accordingly, Valley View's list might look like this:
If you're just starting your research, learn about when you should sue in small claims court. For more help preparing your testimony and evidence, see Everybody's Guide to Small Claims Court, by attorney Cara O'Neill (Nolo).