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How to Sue in Small Claims Court
Are There Alternatives To Small Claims Court?

Whenever you have a dispute, is a lawsuit the first thing you should think of? Should you immediately drive down to the courthouse and file suit? The answer is probably no.

During any given year, many cases are filed in small claims court which could have been resolved without a lawsuit. If you do file a lawsuit, you will find that you must spend time preparing your case. You will also have to pay certain fees to have your case processed. A trial in small claims court can be a time-consuming and emotionally draining experience.

You should always try to settle a dispute without going to court. In many cases, there are alternatives to going to court. In a dispute with your landlord, you may be able to get the matter resolved by the Apartment Association. In a dispute with a business, the Better Business Bureau may be helpful. The Dry Cleaners Association may be able to resolve a problem with your dry cleaner. In a dispute over wages or involving deceptive trade practices, a call to the attorney general's office may be worthwhile. Sometimes a local television station or newspaper will have a consumer action department. Occasionally, such departments are extremely effective in recovering money for consumers and are sometimes successful in recovering money where a suit in small claims court would fail.

The steps set out below may help you to settle a dispute without suing:

1. First, carefully analyze the nature and cost of the wrong. For example, if the laundry has ruined a piece of your clothing, estimate the value of the article ruined. Determine how much you have been damaged. How much money would it take to make you "whole," or to put you in the position where you would have been had the other party done what he or she promised to do. If your case involves a consumer transaction, obtain a copy of the Texas Young Lawyers Association handbook entitled Deceptive Trade Practices to assist you in analyzing your claim.

2. Once you know what you want, a good way to start an attempted settlement is to call the store or the person whom you feel is responsible. Speak to a person in authority, not a salesperson. Generally, a store manager or an officer with authority to make decisions is best.

3. Calmly explain your side of the story and how you feel you were wronged. Do not gripe! You are not registering a complaint but are asking that the store or person compensate you for the wrong you feel they have done you.

4. NEVER become abusive or upset. A calm and logical approach will accomplish far more than abusive outrages, no matter what your feelings are on the subject. Yelling and shouting will not increase the amount that you are entitled to recover and will only create hard feelings.

5. Demand something specific. Ask the store or person to replace the garment, or return your money, or some other specific compensation. Tell them exactly what you want to resolve the issue.

6. If the store manager or person in charge is unresponsive, or if you are unable to reach him or her by telephone, then write a letter explaining your complaint. . Send the letter by certified mail, return receipt requested. Remember to keep a copy of the letter. A sample letter is at the end of this pamphlet. Try to be as clear and concise as you can. There is no need for long winded discussions, or fancy legal language. And make sure you mail the letter to the correct address

7. If a letter is unsuccessful in resolving the dispute, and you have tried everything else within reason, you should seriously consider filing suit.