Small claims courts have limited jurisdiction. The types of cases that may be brought in these courts are few, and limits exist for the amount of money that can be recovered. Most small claims courts are part of the county, circuit or district court where other civil cases are filed. They are usually brought to trial much more quickly than other cases. Trials are held before judges, not juries, so court procedures and some rules of evidence are less formal. Alabama allows both claimants and defendants to use attorneys, but the majority of cases are brought by individuals who prosecute their own claims. Collection agencies seeking payment are required to have an attorney represent their interests.
Who Can Sue in Small Claims Court?
You must be at least 19 years old to file a lawsuit in an Alabama small claims court. Partnerships may file in their own name, but if they do so without an attorney, they must have a full-time employee represent them. If the claimant is a corporation, a corporate officer must appear to represent its interests.
What Types of Cases Can Be Brought in Small Claims Court?
Alabama law imposes a jurisdictional limit of $3,000 for small claims court cases. You may bring claims for unpaid rent, damaged property, medical bills, personal injury damages, breach of contract or unpaid debts. Other lawsuits, such as unlawful detainer cases, libel, slander, or assigned claims, can only be brought in the appropriate county's regular district court.
In What Jurisdiction Do I File a Claim?
If you are suing a business entity, you must file your claim in the small claims department of the district court where the company has an office or is domiciled. For breach of contract cases or suits for payment of a debt, you must file in the county where the contract was signed or where the debt was incurred.
What are the Steps to Filing a Complaint?
You can obtain a statement of claim, also referred to as a complaint, by downloading it from the appropriate court's web site. You can also get one from the court clerk's office. Send a demand letter to the defendant who owes you money before filing and include a copy of the letter as an exhibit with your complaint. Include the proper legal name of the individual or business entity in your statement of claim. If a corporation is a defendant in addition to a corporate officer, you must name them separately. The correct address of all defendants is essential or they will not receive required notice and your case will not proceed. You must provide a written statement explaining why the individual or business owes you money, and in what amount. If you're attempting to recover property, include a description of the property. You must state that you sent a written demand that the funds be paid or the property be sent, but your demand was refused or ignored.
How to Prepare for the Hearing
You have the burden of proving your case in court, so gather all documents or records necessary to support your claim. If you have witnesses, prepare them and have them give direct testimony about the event or conversations that can prove your version of the facts.
How Will a Small Claims Attorney Help?
The laws regarding the types of cases that may be brought in small claims court vary in each state. A small claims attorney can assist you in naming the proper defendants and in preparing your case for a successful resolution. Your lawyer can also help you collect on a judgment, which is often the most difficult phase of any case.