Generally, the judge's decision will be announced at the end of a small claims trial. The judgment will specify which side prevailed and if money damages are being awarded and the amount of those damages.
Appeal the Judgment
The person or company that loses the lawsuit may ask the magistrate to "stay" the proceedings to allow for an appeal. That means the winner can't try to collect the judgment. However, if you appeal, you will have to pay additional costs and may have to put up a bond. An appeal is only a review of the transcribed tape by a district court judge, not a trial all over again.
Payment of Judgment
If you the lost the lawsuit and you aren't planning on filing an appeal, you should make payment arrangements with the winning party right away.
List of Assets and Property
Following the entry of judgment, the losing party must complete and file the Information of Judgment Debtor's Assets and Property form, unless an immediate payment of the judgment is made or the court orders otherwise.
In addition, the winning party is entitled to an order requiring the losing party to appear before the court at a specified time and place to answer questions about assets and property.
Courts Don't Enforce Decisions
Courts are only responsible for deciding disputes and not for enforcing their decisions. If you won, it's your job to collect the judgment. The court can't do it for you but you will have at least six years to collect your judgment.
The winning party should first ask the losing party to pay. If he or she pays, then you need to file a Creditor's Satisfaction of Judgment form, so the court knows the case is over.
If the losing party doesn't pay, ask the magistrate to order the person or company to answer "interrogatories." Interrogatories are questions designed to help identify property owned by the debtor that could help you get payment. This includes things like wages, bank accounts, a house, a car or something else of value. If the party fails to answer the interrogatories, the magistrate can issue a bench warrant. That means the debtor can go to jail until he or she answers the questions.
A certain amount of wages are protected against collection; houses in which a debtor lives and cars needed to go back and forth to work are also protected against collection of a judgment. Also, welfare benefits, Social Security benefits and even some bank accounts are protected.
Questions for Your Attorney
- What should I do if I didn't receive a final judgment at my trial or in the mail and it's been 30 days since my small claims trial?
- What happens if the defendant doesn't appear at the trial?
- How long does it generally take to get the judge's decision by mail if the judgment wasn't announced at the trial?