Small claims court is where individuals can file certain types of lawsuits that have limited values. Its procedures are simpler than those in a standard court. Lawyers are generally not allowed in small claims court in Colorado, except in a few specific circumstances.
Cases Allowed in Small Claims Court
You may only file certain types of cases in Colorado's small claims court, including but not limited to debt collection or property damage. You may not request damages in excess of $7,500. The small claims court does not have jurisdiction over certain matters, regardless of the amount you are seeking. These include defamation, evictions and criminal claims.
Filing Your Complaint
The Notice, Claim and Summons to Appear for Trial form asks for information about yourself and the defendant:
- Names, addresses and phone numbers
- Registered agent's name and contact information if suing a company
- The dollar amount you are seeking or a description of the property you want returned
- An explanation of why you believe the defendant owes this to you
When you file your claim, the court clerk sets a trial date and writes it on your form. Your filing fee depends on the value of your claim.
After the Complaint is Filed
The defendant must receive a copy of your complaint at least 15 days before the scheduled trial date. Any adult not involved in the case or related to you or to the defendant may serve the papers. You may also request that the court clerk mail the forms to the defendant by certified mail.
The defendant has until the trial date to file a written answer. If the answer includes a counterclaim, the court may continue or postpone the hearing until a later date. If the counterclaim is outside the small claims court's jurisdiction, the defendant may request that the case be moved to the appropriate court. If the defendant does not file an answer, the court may enter a default judgment in your favor.
Preparing for Your Hearing
You must present your case yourself, without an attorney, so you will want to be well-prepared:
- Gather all your evidence, including items such as pictures, contracts or repair bills. Remember to bring them with you to court.
- Let witnesses know when and where to attend. Have them subpoenaed to appear if you believe they may not show up.
- Find out if your court has specific local rules you must follow. For example, some courts require two copies plus the original of all exhibits you intend to present.
- If you prefer that a judge hear your case instead of a magistrate, file your request at least seven days before your trial date.
Speak clearly and respectfully in court, and listen to what the judge says.
Collecting Your Judgment
If you win and the defendant pays without argument, you can file a Creditor's Satisfaction of Judgment to close the case. If the defendant will not pay, you can request garnishment of his or her wages. This court order diverts a certain percentage of the person's wages directly to you. It could take a few weeks or months to get paid in full.
You may also have other options for collecting your money. A Colorado judgment is valid for a minimum of six years, so you have time to decide which method best serves your needs.
Consulting a Small Claims Attorney
Although small claims court procedures are simplified, the rules can still be confusing. Your case may not qualify for representation by an attorney, but a Colorado small claims lawyer can still help you put together a strong case and advise you how to proceed.