WEEKEND EDITION

There Are No Small Claims, Only…How to File in NYC

| July 10, 2011 6:00 PM

The Harlem Courthouse contains a small claims court. Flickr/Paul Lowry.

What is a small claims court?

  • It’s a court in which corporations, associations and partnerships can be sued for up to $5,000 without a lawyer.
  • Suits can only be for money, as damages cannot be sued for in a small claims court.

Who can use small claims courts?

  • Anyone over the age of 18 can sue in small claims court.
  • Anyone under 18 can have their parents or guardians sue for them.
  • Corporations, partnerships, associations and assignees cannot sue in a small claims court,  but they can be sued.

Where are small claims courts located?

How do I start a small claims case?

  • Fill out an application, found here.
  • Be prepared to give a brief written statement.
  • Pay a filing fee of $15 or $20, depending on the claim.
  • The defendant must be served with notice of the claim.

What is a counterclaim?

  • A suit in which the defendant files against the claimant.
  • The defendant is required to file his or her counterclaim with the court within five days of receiving notice of the claim, and must pay the court a fee of $5.00 — plus the cost of mailing the counterclaim to the claimant.
  • If the counterclaim is not filed within a five-day period, the judge is required to postpone the case if the claimant (now, also a defendant) requests.

Are there any jury trials in small claims courts?

  • The claimant cannot demand a trial by jury.
  • However, the defendant can demand a trial by jury.
  • The defendant is then required to pay jury costs, plus a $50 fee.

What happens if one party does not appear?

  • If the claimant does not appear, the case is dismissed.
  • If the defendant does not appear, the case can proceed without him or her.
  • In the event that one party does not appear, the losing party can request a reopening and retrying of the case.

After the gavel falls, small claims cases can be appealed. Flickr/Bill Bradford.

Can I appeal the case if I lose?

  • If the case was lead by a judge and you believe the result was unjust, you can appeal.
  • However, if the case was settled between the parties, you cannot appeal.

How can I collect my judgment?

  • After winning, contact the losing party and ask for the owed sum.
  • If the losing party does not pay, you may need the assistance of a law enforcing agent. Present him with all the evidence from the case, and describe what is owed by the losing party.

How do I prepare for trial?

  • Gather evidence to prove your claim or defense.
  • Bring witnesses who have testimony important to your case.
  • The decision will be mailed to the parties a few days after the hearing.

This information was culled from New York State’s online guide to small claims court. Click here for more information.

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