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How Do I Prepare to Present or Defend a Case in Small Claims Court?

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Question: How Do I Prepare to Present or Defend a Case in Small Claims Court?

Preparing for an appearance in small claims court is an important process. You have one opportunity to present to the judge, and you want to be sure you have given it your best effort.

Answer:

Showing Up for Court
When a small claims case is filed, it is given a court date. Whether you are the plaintiff or the defendant, you cannot hope to win if you do not show up. If you are the defendant and you fail to appear, in many cases the judge will award the judgment (the decision) to the plaintiff. If you are the plaintiff and you fail to appear, your case may be thrown out, you will still have to pay court costs, and you may not have another opportunity to sue this defendant.
If you cannot make the court date, contact the Clerk of Court and see if you can get the date changed.

What and Who to Bring With You

  • Witnesses
    If there are individuals who have specific knowledge to support your claim in this case, you should bring them as witnesses. For your business, this might include your office manager, accounts receivable manager, sales people, or other individuals who can add to your credibility. If these individuals are reluctant to appear, you can ask the Court to issue them a subpoena, requiring them to appear.
  • Documentation
    If you are bringing the lawsuit, you should bring all documents that can support your claim. For example, if the claim is against a customer who owes you money, provide the bills, show that the work was done or the products were delivered. If there is a contract, bring a copy with the defendant's signature. If you have claims for damages, prove the value of the damage. For example, if a vendor ran a truck into your loading dock, provide estimates of the cost of repairs.
    If you are defending against a lawsuit, bring documents showing that you are not liable for the amounts, either because some else is liable, or because the work was not done as required. For example, if a contractor says you owe money for work he performed on your office, provide photos showing that the work was not done according to your requirements or according to the contract.
Whether you are the plaintiff or the defendant, showing documents specifically proving your case and bringing in witnesses who can support your claim can mean the difference between winning or losing the lawsuit.

 

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