Small Claims Lawsuits
About Small Claims
When there is a case involving small amounts of money or property then you may go to small claims court. A small claims court is less formal and less expensive than traditional court. The court does not handle criminal law matters. Small claims court may be a division of the city court or it may get handled by a Justice of the Peace.
Basic information you should know about small claims court:
- This court may get used to sue for smaller amounts of money or to solve minor civil legal issues.
- You may file a suit in this court without having to hire an attorney.
- Filing a suit in this court means you are giving up your right to a jury trial.
What You Need To Know About Small Claims
Anyone 18 years of age or older can sue in small claims court on their own behalf. Anyone under the age of 18 must have a parent or guardian sue on their behalf.
Some small claims courts only allow an individual to file a suit while other courts allow individuals, corporations, or partnerships to file suit. Check the website of the court where you intend to file suit for specific information.
You can only sue the person or persons or company who caused you damage or injury. The person you may sue may be an individual, a corporation, a partnership, a sole proprietor, or an unincorporated association, like a club. Check the website of the court where you intend to file suit for specific information.
Small claims courts hear various legal issues and disputes including:
Damages for injuries caused by another
Action to get possession of personal property (but not ownership of real estate)
Consumer complaints - this may involve repairs, warranties, defective products, damaged property, insurance claims, and undelivered goods.
You cannot file the following types of claims in small claims court:
Separation or divorce
Emancipation of a minor
A suit involving a state agency or the local or parish government
You also cannot sue for punitive damages, only actual damages. Punitive damages are monetary awards the court will grant to victims as a punishment to the defendant for appalling behavior that caused the injuries. Louisiana only allows punitive damages in limited situations, including drunk driving accidents, cases involving juveniles, and domestic violence. If someone caused you $500 worth of damages, you can sue for that but not for another $500.
If you are unsure whether an issue can get filed in the court where you are filing, check with the court.
When you file in small claims court the cost of filing is usually less than filing in civil district court. The cost of filing a small claims case depends on the small claims court you are filing in. The cost also depends on how many defendants (people or entities you are suing) you name in your case. There is usually a small fee for each additional defendant. Call your clerk of court to get information on costs and forms of payment accepted.
What, Where & How To File
What, Where, & How To File
Typically you must file a complaint with the clerk of court or the Justice of the Peace in the parish where the defendant resides. The complaint must include the names of both parties, the facts of the case, and the monetary damages you want to claim. Before filing, make sure to gather all necessary information and evidence so that you can write your claim.
Once you file, the defendant has to be served and given time to respond. If the defendant answers your lawsuit, the court will issue a summons and set a hearing date. Based on the outcome of the hearing, the Judge may issue a judgment or order another hearing. If they do not respond, you may win the case by default.
What Is The Process To File A Small Claims Case?
The rules for filing a small claims case vary by parish, so you should check with the City Court or Justice of the Peace that you are filing in. The qualifications may differ depending on the court you are filing in. The amount of your claim cannot be larger than $5,000 - not including interest, court costs, and attorney's fees (if attorney's fees are recoverable).
In general, file a small claims case in the parish where the defendant lives, or does business in, or where the incident took place. The Justice of the Peace may assist you if you are unsure which parish to file in. You should contact the Small Claims Division or the Justice of the Peace Court to ask about filing fees, what type of evidence you should collect, and how to file the initial complaint (this is the paperwork that begins the lawsuit).
The evidence that you need to gather to prepare your case will depend on the facts of your case and what you need to prove. Generally, you should get any relevant documents, such as contracts, emails, photographs, or any other records or evidence that can help support your argument.
Using your evidence to guide you, prepare your claim by writing a brief statement that explains:
- the reason you are filing the lawsuit and why you believe you are entitled to a judgment in your favor, and
- the amount of money you are seeking.
Many courts have fillable forms for your convenience and are helpful when you are not represented by an attorney. Include the name, address, and contact information of the defendant. In general, most courts will request you to fill out a form called a Statement of Claim. This is a simple statement on why you are suing.
File your claim with the court your chose earlier and pay the required filing fee. Once you have filed your claim with the clerk’s office, you will get a case number.
The court will not update you on your case so if you have any questions you must contact the clerk’s office.
The defendant must know about any claims against them and given notice of the date, time, and place of the hearing. Because of this, you will need to have the defendant "served." (Learn more about service.)
The defendant will be notified when served that he/she has only 10 calendar days to answer the lawsuit from the day she was served. You as the plaintiff cannot take any further action during this 10-day period.
On the 11th day after service, you can contact the Clerk’s office to find out if the defendant has filed “an answer.” Otherwise, the Clerk’s Office will mail you the service information upon receipt from the Constable and/or Sheriff’s Office.
If the Defendant Did Not File An Answer: If the defendant HAS NOT filed an “Answer”, your next step is to “confirm a default judgment.” You can usually get the default judgment form(s) from the Clerk’s Office and return them by mail, or you may confirm your default judgment in open court.
If the Defendant Filed An Answer: If the defendant HAS filed an “Answer” or other pleadings contesting the claim, you must write the Clerk of Court and ask for a trial date. This action may be done in letter form. (Check the local Rules of Court to make sure you ask for a trial date properly)
The court will set a date within 45 days of your request for a trial date. Make sure you bring all your evidence to the hearing. Attend the hearing and present evidence to support your case. The parties involved in the dispute stand in front of the judge and present evidence and arguments to support their position.
If you win the case, collect your judgment from the defendant. It is your responsibility to take any legal action necessary to collect your judgment.
If you lose your case, you have the right to make a written statement or motion for a new trial.
Legal Issues To Consider
Legal Issues To Consider
Filing a claim in small claims can bring up different legal issues. It is important for you to understand the procedural laws and know your legal rights.
Legal Issues To Consider Related To Small Claims Court
The party filing the claim must have the legal standing to sue. This means that they can show a type of injury or harm that can get remedied by the court.
To file a claim you must check to make sure the court has the appropriate jurisdiction to hear the case. This means that the court has the authority to hear and decide the case. A court may consider the parties involved, the location of the dispute, and the type of claim. Generally, small claims court has jurisdiction over civil disputes. The amount of money in the dispute is less than $5,000.
A party must file their claim within the applicable statute of limitations. The statute of limitations is the amount of time in which a plaintiff has to file a claim. If the claim is filed after the statute of limitations, the court may not accept the claim.
The plaintiff should gather all necessary evidence to support their claim. The court will need to see evidence that supports the claims made in the case. This can include documents, witness statements, photographs, and other types of evidence.
The plaintiff may choose to hire a lawyer to represent them in a small claim, although it is not necessary. Parties in a small claims action may or may not be represented by an attorney. The plaintiff should be aware that the defendant may be represented by a lawyer, and if so, the plaintiff should prepare accordingly.
The court will need to determine the amount of damages to award if any. In Louisiana, the damage amounts that can be recovered in small claims court are limited to $5,000. This includes actual damages, court costs, and attorney’s fees. Actual damages refer to the monetary amount of the losses that have been suffered as a result of the defendant’s conduct. This can include medical bills, lost wages, and property damage. Court costs refer to the amount of money paid to the court to cover filing fees and other administrative costs. Attorney’s fees refer to the amount of money paid to the lawyer who represented the plaintiff in the case.
There are three ways to collect a money judgment including:
Record the judgment in the mortgage records of a parish. It becomes a judicial mortgage against any immovable property owned by the debtor.
Garnish rights and property in the hands of a third party owed to the debtor. Usually, this involves garnishing wages or seizing a bank account.
Seize, store, and sell the non-exempt property of the debtor.
After the judgment gets signed, either party may make a written request or motion for a new trial. The court must decide on a motion for a new trial within 10 days from the time it gets submitted for a decision. When the court grants a motion for a new trial, it will specify each of its reasons in the order.
The court may award a new trial in the following cases:
When the verdict or judgment appears clearly contrary to the law and the evidence
When the party requesting a new trial has discovered, since the trial, evidence important to the case that they could not have obtained before or during the trial