Small Claims Court
In Florida, Small Claims Court is a division of the local county court reserved for disputes where the amount allegedly owed is $5,000 or less. Small Claims Court is less formal than County Court or Circuit Court. The pleadings, discovery, and other matters that typically drag out a County or Circuit Court case are non-existent or relaxed in a small claims case.
When the small claims case is filed, the Court schedules a hearing date approximately 30 – 45 days from the date of filing. At that hearing, the plaintiff and defendant appear, in person or sometimes through their attorneys. The judge gives the defendant an opportunity to admit or deny that the obligation is owed. If the defendant admits that the alleged debt is owed, judgment is entered immediately in favor of the plaintiff. If the defendant denies that the alleged debt is owed, the parties are sent to mediation and, if mediation fails, the case is scheduled for trial. Sometimes mediation occurs immediately on the day of the hearing, and sometimes mediation is scheduled for a future date, requiring the parties to come back to the courthouse depending on the Judge, the Court, the County, the availability of Mediators, and the availability of the attorneys (if any) who are representing a party in the case.
Why would someone file a small claims case on their own, without an attorney?
- Typical attorney fees may be cost-prohibitive. Consider an attorney who charges $250 per hour. If the small claims case takes 5 hours to complete, the attorney fee would be $1,250, and court costs would be an additional $500 (approximately). Does the client want to pay $1,750, with no guarantee of recovery for a dispute that could only be $1,000 or $2,000?
- Mediation might settle the dispute. Mediation is required in small claims cases where the defendant denies the debt is owed. If the parties are able to agree with the assistance of the Court, they may be able to settle the dispute before it goes to Court. (I recently had a client with an upcoming small claims hearing and I was unable to attend. The client called the creditor before the hearing and settled the case without having to go to Court!)
- The debt might be uncollectible. Suing someone who has no assets subject to repossession, and no wages subject to garnishment will result in a paper judgment, and nothing more.
Why would someone file a small claims case with an attorney’s help?
- This is still a lawsuit, and attorneys are trained to handle lawsuits. If the case goes to mediation, most attorneys are skilled at mediating and negotiating disputes. If the case goes to trial, attorneys are skilled at direct and cross examination, application of the law, and admission or exclusion of evidence.
- You make money by working at your job or profession. Taking time to go to court, go to mediation and go to trial takes time away from what you do to earn money.
At Yesner Law, we have helped both plaintiffs and defendants in small claims court. However, we need to consider the facts of each case individually, to determine if small claims court is the best forum to resolve your dispute. In addition, if we feel that we are unable to add value by representing you (for example by charging more that what we are able to recover for you) then we will likely decline to represent you in a small claims matter. However, please contact us so we can go over the specific facts of your case.
For more information on small claims court, or litigation in general, please subscribe to the Crushing Debt Podcast, on iTunes, Stitcher, and GooglePlay. If you prefer, please contact us to schedule a free initial consultation to discuss your options at 813-774-5737 or email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Shawn M. Yesner, Esq., is the host of the Crushing Debt Podcast and founder of Yesner Law, P.L., a Tampa-based boutique real estate and consumer law firm that helps clients eliminate the financial bullies in their lives. We assist clients with asset protection, the sale and purchase of real property, Chapter 7 liquidation, Chapter 13 reorganization, bankruptcy, foreclosure defense, debt settlement, landlord/tenant issues, short sales, and loan modifications in Tampa, Westchase, Odessa, Oldsmar, Palm Harbor, Clearwater, Pinellas Park, Largo, St. Petersburg, and throughout the greater Tampa Bay area.