How to Sue in Small Claims Court
How Do You Prepare
Once you have appeared before the clerk to start your lawsuit, you should begin to prepare your case for trial.
You should already have taken the first step by writing down a clear and concise statement. If you have not done so, do it now. Check all relevant dates. Compare your memory of events to any documents you may have. This statement will assist you in clarifying the facts of your claim. Remember, you have the burden of proving all of the facts which establish that you should recover money because of the defendant's acts or failure to act. You must prove the amount of your damages.
Next, gather all documentation which you feel will have a bearing on the dispute. On the day of the trial, you should bring all: (1) records; (2) receipts; (3) canceled checks; (4) copies of contracts; (5) agreements; (6) photographs and any other items directly related to the case which will help you establish the facts of your story. Most courts require that you bring two copies of all relevant evidence and estimates of your damage. Each document should support some part of your story. If there is any doubt, take the document to court. And don't forget to bring the subject matter of the dispute. If the laundry ruined your shirt, bring it. If your car is damaged, have it in the parking lot. The best evidence you have is the damaged good.
At this point you also should determine if there are any witnesses who can come to court with you and help you tell your story. You should avoid witnesses who only know what someone else told them, that is, only have second hand information. Try to get witnesses who know relevant facts because they were there. The value of witnesses' testimony depends upon intelligence, speaking ability, appearance, and the presence or lack of bias and self-interest. The testimony of persons who might be biased, such as relatives and people who benefit if you won the case, will not be given as much weight as the testimony of a disinterested person. Once you have determined who your witnesses are, contact them and ask them to relate the story to you as they would before the judge so that you will not be surprised by their testimony once you get to court. If you feel the witnesses will help tell your story, ask them if they will assist you by giving their testimony in court.
If a witness is important to your claim but will not voluntarily come to court, then you have the right to subpoena him and force him to court. If a subpoena is necessary, go back to the county clerk as soon as you have a trial date and ask the clerk to issue the subpoena. You must provide the complete name for the witness and a good address where the witness may be served with the subpoena. The subpoena may require the witness to bring to court any documents in his control which help prove your claim. You must pay an extra fee for getting a subpoena served on a witness.
Once you have organized your case by writing a statement, gathering documents and selecting witnesses, then the exact issues in controversy will probably become clearer to you. You should then sit down and prepare what you will say when you get to court. You should also decide in what order you will present the evidence you have accumulated. List the questions you expect to ask each witness. Make an outline of what you want to say when you testify. Sometimes people forget to say things that are important to their case in a trial atmosphere. During trial, you should check off each item as you cover it.
You should also determine whether you prefer the judge to hear the case or whether you want a trial by jury. You should make this decision based upon whether you think a jury will be more sympathetic to the case than the judge. If you request a jury, you will have to pay a small jury fee.