Did someone damage your person or your property? You may have a civil claim. That means you can sue the person who harmed you for damages. You can also sue a business.
People are often hesitant to file a claim. It might seem like more trouble than it’s worth. Yet, if you have a smaller claim, the process is very straight forward. For larger claims, you might want to hire an attorney. Either way, taking action can be rewarding –– and not just because of a financial settlement.
Civil claims fall into one of three categories. The Civil Court of the City of New York decides cases up to $25,000. Supreme Courts can decide cases suing for an unlimited amount of money. If your claim is under $10,000, then you’ll be filing in Small Claims Court. Small claims courts are unique because everyone represents themselves.
The first step is finding the right venue to file. Usually you can sue in the county where either party resides or has a residence, employment or business address. To begin an action, you need to fill out a statement of claim. You’ll write down the reason for the lawsuit and the amount of the claim. You also must have the correct name and address of the person or business you are suing. This is the defendant. Although you can download the forms, you will need to file them in person at the Small Claims Court Clerk’s office.
As claimant, you’ll pay a filing fee of $15.00 if your claim is for $1,000 or less. Anything up to $10,000, your fee is $20.00. When you have paid the fee and filed the paperwork, you’ll be given a date for the hearing. Most cases are heard at night. That’s right, if you have a normal 9 to 5 life, you won’t need to take time off from work!
The defendant will be served by both certified and first class mail. If the notice sent first class isn’t returned as undeliverable within 21 days, then the defendant is presumed to have been served –– even if the certified mail is not accepted. If the documents are returned, you will need to have them served by someone who is not party to the claim. If they are not properly served within four months, the case is dismissed. You can refile if you learn a new location for the defendant.
During the hearing, you’ll present your evidence first. You have the burden of proof –– you must demonstrate by a preponderance of evidence that you should prevail. Remember civil cases require a lower burden of proof than criminal cases where “beyond a reasonable doubt” is the standard.
The judge will hear your claim, ask questions of the defendant, and make a ruling. If the case is decided in your favor, the defendant must pay you. If they don’t, you have the legal right to pursue remedy including liens and garnishment. So how do you get a favorable outcome? Be prepared!
Preparing for Claims
Whether it’s a case for $500 or $5 million, evidence is everything. For small claims cases, you’ll collect it yourself. Evidence can include documents like bills or photographs of damage. In larger claims, you may need the help of an attorney. That’s because the law is more complex for cases that wind up in Civil or Supreme Courts –– which is why most people are represented by counsel. For example, if the defendant T-boned your car causing disabling injuries and thousands of dollars in damage, you probably wouldn’t want to represent yourself. You’ll need one of the best car accident lawyers you can find.
Lawyers may also have an easier time getting witnesses to make statements. Because you were personally harmed, they may be uncomfortable speaking to you directly. You may also need expert witnesses, such as a doctor or mechanic, who can speak to the harm done to you. Usually these witnesses need to be paid. If a witness has vital information and refuses to appear, you can get a subpoena. Although the process can seem involved, if you don’t pursue the claim, you may spend a great deal of time regretting your inaction.