Can I Try My Own Case in Small Claims Court?
Every personal injury claim involves a certain degree of pain, inconvenience and disruption to daily life. In severe cases, this fact may require victims to engage in difficult, protracted litigation in order to receive the justice and compensation they are owed. However, instances in which the only true dispute remaining following an injury event involves a relatively small amount of money, it may be possible and even advisable for those harmed by the negligence of others to have their matter heard in small claims court.
When Colorado Small Claims Court Can be Used
If out of court settlement negotiations following an accident event fail to produce a fair outcome for the party who has suffered loss, small claims court may be a viable alternative, provided the amount in dispute is less than $7,500 and the plaintiff is at least 18 years old or an emancipated minor. It is indeed possible to sue an individual or a business entity in small claims court, though it is important for prospective filers to note that a two-year statute of limitations is in place which dictates the amount of time available to seek recovery.
Generally speaking, attorneys are not permitted in small claims court, leaving plaintiffs and defendants to manage their own arguments and evidence. However, if an attorney is also a full-time employee of either the plaintiff or the defendant in a given case, he or she will be allowed to appear. Attorneys who have dual roles as active members or officers of associations or corporations are also able to appear in small claims matters, though if that does occur, the opposing party will be permitted to have counsel as well. There are also instances in which attorneys are permitted in small claims court, namely if a defendant files seven days’ notice to the court that he or she intends to bring legal representation. This triggers a plaintiff’s right to utilize counsel as well, and he or she does not need to provide notice of intent to exercise it.
Key Procedural Steps
Once a plaintiff decides to pursue compensation in small claims court, it is necessary to complete a form known as a “Notice, Claim and Summons to Appear for Trial.” It is important that this paperwork is completed accurately so that collection of any subsequent judgment can be effected without undue difficulty. The plaintiff will also need to file all required papers and pay the applicable fee, which may sometimes be waived for indigent claimants. The complaint must be properly served on the defendant, whether by in-person delivery by an uninterested third party or via certified mail from the clerk of the court. In either event, service must occur no less than 15 days prior to the scheduled trial date.
Important Evidence for Colorado Small Claims Plaintiffs
Strong, persuasive evidence is essential in order to prevail in small claims court, and it is largely up to the plaintiff in such cases to collect, organize and present such information in an effective manner. A personal injury plaintiff, for instance, would likely need to produce extensive documentation which could include:
- medical treatment records
- medical imaging study reports
- injury diary that includes personal recollections and experiences
- notes from treating physicians
- accident scene photos
- injury photos
- paystubs and evidence of work time missed due to injury
- witness testimony
Cases involving property loss, such as diminished value to a vehicle following a car crash would require different types of evidence, such as documentation of valuation prior to the accident, the type of repairs required and performed after the event, and proof regarding the drop in resale or trade-in value of the vehicle that has occurred, despite having been repaired.
Preparation is Paramount
When it comes to seeking compensation in small claims court, there is no substitute for comprehensive preparation. Magistrates in small claims court hear a variety of cases during each session over which they preside, and it is vital that a plaintiff is able to bring him or her up to speed rapidly on what is being argued. Because most small claims court participants are not well-versed in public speaking, it is wise for them to make copious notes of the facts surrounding their case and their main points of contention. Straightforward, uncomplicated presentations are always best.
Organization of evidence in the order it is to be presented can go a long way toward efficiently presenting a case in small claims court. Contracts, photographs, and receipts for out-of-pocket expenses should all be easily accessible and ready to produce at a moment’s notice. If witness testimony is required in a given matter, it is vital that those individuals be informed of their need to appear, and if they are reluctant to agree, a subpoena may be obtained from the clerk’s office and properly served. As with any public presentation, the chances of success in small claims court often boils down to practice, organization, and confidence.
Deciding Whether or Not to File in Colorado
While small claims court can be an efficient, economical way to secure relatively small-scale damage awards, it is important for potential filers to ask themselves certain questions before deciding to forge ahead. For instance, it makes good sense to assess in advance whether or not a judgment, if obtained, is likely to be collectible. Going through the work of preparing a small claims court case may prove futile if the target of the filing lacks financial resources with which to satisfy an award. However, because judgments are good for six years, it may be wise to obtain a judgment now and attempt to collect later when the defendant’s fortunes improve.
It is also necessary to note that once a small claims court complaint is filed, the defendant may choose to file a counterclaim against the plaintiff. Thus, before choosing to initiate a case, it makes good sense for the complainant to make an honest assessment of whether or not he or she would be able to pay a judgment if the case gets turned upside down and the Magistrate rules in the other party’s favor.
Advice and Guidance for Colorado Injury Victims
For certain types of injury claims and losses, small claims court provides a valuable level of simplicity and judicial economy. Achieving quick resolution of comparatively small money disputes is something many victims find appealing. However, the process is not as simple as some may believe, and it can be extremely beneficial to consult with an attorney before moving forward with a claim. Even in cases where formal representation is discouraged or allowed, securing the insights and guidance of an experienced Colorado personal injury attorney can be pivotal to a plaintiff’s success.
Attorney Jeremy Rosenthal stands prepared to provide the advice and strategic perspective injury victims need in order to make informed decisions about their claims. If you would like to benefit from his extensive background in the realm of personal injury law, contact the Law Firm of Jeremy Rosenthal at 303.825.2223.