Using Small Claims Court to Resolve a Consumer Claim
What Is Small Claims Court? Small claims court is a division in each municipal and county court in Ohio. It provides a quick, informal and inexpensive way of resolving many types of disputes. In most small claims courts, the hearing is conducted by a magistrate instead of a judge. You may represent yourself or have a lawyer. However, corporations must be represented by a lawyer
What Types Of Disputes Can Small Claims Court Resolve? Small Claims Court can help resolve everyday disputes. Small claims court can help with most consumer disputes such as repair problems, breach of warranty, defective products, undelivered goods and insurance claims. Small claims court can also hear claims about damage to property caused by movers, cleaners and others. Small claims courts handle most civil actions where the claim is for money only.
You may want to check first to see if others have had similar problems. If so, an attorney who specializes in consumer law may be able to help you and the others in the same court case. This would not be a small claims case and would take much longer. However, the benefits may outweigh the wait.
The small claims court is specifically authorized to award damages to a consumer under the Ohio Consumer Sales Practices Act. In an appropriate case, a consumer may recover three times the amount of actual damage or $200, whichever is greater.
Are There Any Limitations To Small Claims Court? Small claims court is limited to resolving claims for the recovery of money of $3,000 or less. If your claim is for more than $3,000, you must decide if you are willing to seek less than the full amount of your claim.
Certain disputes cannot be heard by small claims court. Those include criminal, libel, slander, and actions seeking punitive damages.
Where Do I file a Complaint? Generally, you must file your complaint in the small claims court where the person or company you wish to sue resides or where the transaction took place. There may be problems if the individual or company against whom you are complaining is from out of town. In this situation, discuss the matter with the court staff. You will need to give an address where your complaint can be served on the opposing party.
How Do I Begin Proceedings? Call or visit the small claims court in your area. If necessary, make an appointment to discuss your problem. Experienced personnel at the court can provide you with a complaint form and help you prepare a written statement about your claim. However, they are not permitted to give you legal advice. A trial date will be set after the complaint is filed and served on the opposing party. At the trial, you (the plaintiff) will be asked to tell your side of the story and the party against whom you are complaining (the defendant) will be asked to tell their side. The law requires the person who brings the case to prove that they have a valid claim.
How Much Does It Cost? Ask a court clerk. You must pay a filing fee. If you are unable to afford the fee, you may be able to file a poverty affidavit to avoid prepayment of the fee. If you win the suit, the court may order the defendant to reimburse you for the fees.
What Can I Do To Prepare For Trial?
- Be organized. Think about what you will say before you get to court. Tell your story in the order in which the events occurred. Stick to the facts.
- Bring with you all the papers that support your case. This can include receipts, bills, canceled checks, warranties, contracts, letters and any other evidence about your dispute.
- You may have witnesses testify for you. At your request, the clerk will issue subpoenas to compel your witnesses to attend.
- If the defendant agrees to settle before the trial, do not sign a release or dismiss your suit until you have received payment.
What Can I Do If The Defendant Fails To Pay Me? If you win and the defendant fails to pay you, you have some options. You may seek to garnish the defendant's wages, an attach the defendant's personal property or bank account or place a judgment lien against any real estate owned by the defendant. Additional fees are required. Ask if court personnel can help you with the paperwork.
What Can I Do If I Lose? The magistrate may rule against you. You need to decide before you go to court whether you will want to challenge this decision. If so, you will need to do the following:
- If the magistrate rules while you are in court, before leaving the hearing, ask for a written report on the decision.
- Check with the Court Clerk to find out when the report has been completed and filed.
- Within 14 days of the filing of the report, you must file an ‘objection’ with the court detailing why you believe the magistrate was wrong.
- Mail a copy of your objections to the other party in the case.
- You must file a transcript of the proceedings (a word for word written record) with your objections. This transcript can be costly.
- A municipal or county court judge will review the case along with your objections and make a ruling.
If the judge upholds the decision, you can appeal the judge's decision to the court of appeals. At this point, the case becomes more complex. Consult with an attorney.
This article is meant to give you general information and not specific legal advice.
Prepared by Community Legal Aid Services, Inc. Updated April, 2012.