Handling Your Case in Small Claims Court (New York)
It’s inevitable…one day you will probably find yourself named as a plaintiff or defendant in Small Claims Court. In Small Claims Court, an individual can sue for up to $5,000 in money damages, but they cannot sue to compel someone to do something, or for pain and suffering. A corporation, partnership, or association can also commence an action in Small Claims Court, and this is called a Commercial Small Claims case. There are special rules that apply to Commercial Claims and Consumer Transactions, so make sure to read “Your Guide to Small Claims & Commercial Small Claims in New York City, Nassau County and Suffolk County” found at http://www.nycourts.gov/courts/nyc/civil/pdfs/smallclaims.pdf before you proceed with filing an action.
General advice for your Small Claims case:
∙ Every judge (or Arbitrator) has his/her own “style” when presiding over a case. In all likelihood, the judge will not be anything like Judge Judy, so be prepared to deal with any type of personality, from strict to informal or anything in between.
∙ The plaintiff will present their case first. The defense will be heard afterwards (which may include a counterclaim). Do not interrupt any party (especially the judge) when they are speaking, and be respectful of all parties and court personnel. Take notes while the opposing party is speaking because you will have the opportunity to explain or refute their statements.
∙ Remember that you are telling a story so give sufficient relevant details of your claim or defense. Do not give extraneous facts or information. Focus on the issue(s) only.
∙ Conduct some research on the Internet to determine what the “elements” of your cause of action are. For example, what you must prove in order to prevail.
∙ Bring original documents to court and at least one copy (preferably two) of all documents. Clip the documents together, put a tab on each document, and add an index (cover sheet) that identifies every document you will be presenting. The judge will appreciate the organization.
∙ Try to anticipate what the opposing party will be saying in/bringing to court and prepare responses, if possible.
∙ Prepare, prepare, prepare. Review what you are going to say in court, and the documents you intend to present before your court date.
This article was reprinted from GEM Magazine LI – Spring 2013