In Florida, small claims courts resolve disputes involving claims for small debts and accounts. Court procedures are simple, inexpensive, quick and informal. Small claims cases are filed with the clerk of court in the appropriate county.
The person or business that files a claim to sue another is called the plaintiff. The person or business that is sued is called the defendant. In most cases you can represent yourself or have a lawyer represent you in court. Attorneys are allowed, but not required. Check with your county's clerk of the court, as some judges have special local rules regarding representation by a lawyer.
Individuals or Businesses May Sue
Any person 18 years of age or older may file a small claims lawsuit. A parent or guardian may file on behalf of a minor child. A business, whether owned by an individual, a partnership or a corporation, may also file a lawsuit in small claims court.
In Florida, a small claims case is a legal action to settle minor disputes among parties where the dollar amount involved is $5,000 or less, excluding costs, interest and attorneys' fees. If the amount you're owed is not significantly more than $5,000, you may want to cut your loses and go after only $5,000 of it, so that you can sue in small claims court, where the procedures are simpler and faster than in other courts.
Cases Suitable for Small Claims Court
Many different kinds of cases go to small claims court. Some of the most common are:
- Goods or services sold
- Money loans
- Auto negligence
- Security deposit refunds
- Unpaid rent
- Minor accidents
- Landlord/tenant disputes
- Credit card problems
- Car repair disputes
- Property damage
- Breach of contract
- Product liability
Statute of Limitations
The statute of limitations is the amount of time you have to file your lawsuit after an incident occurs. The length of time you have to file a claim in court varies depending on the subject matter and circumstances of your claim. Therefore, you should file your case as soon as possible.
The clerk of the county court will provide you with a form to fill out to state your claim. This form will tell the other party why you are suing. If you wish to request a jury trial, you may do so at the time you file your complaint.
An attorney can advise you on the validity of your claim as well as on what evidence you will need to prove your claim. In most cases you may ask the court to include the attorney's fees in the amount of the judgment if you win the case.
The clerk of court will assist with the preparation of a statement of claim and other papers to be filed in the action at the request of any litigant. The clerk also furnishes all parties with a memorandum of the day and hour set for the pretrial conference and the trial, if there is to be a trial.
Before you get to trial in the small claims division, you'll have to appear at a pretrial hearing. When filing your case, you'll be informed of your first court appearance, or a pretrial conference. This isn't a trial and doesn't require witnesses. However, if you don't appear, the court may dismiss your case. A pretrial conference is scheduled within 50 days after the action is filed.
If your case wasn't settled during the pretrial conference, it will be set for trial. This is when you can bring your witnesses. The trial date is scheduled within 60 days after pre-trial conference.
Sometimes the judge won't decide the case immediately, instead the judge may send the ruling, or judgment, to the parties at a later date. If the judgment is in your favor, you are entitled to seek payment from the losing party.
Small Claims Court Procedural Rules
You can find the Florida Small Claims Rules on The Florida Bar Web site.
Questions for Your Attorney
- If my claim is for over $5,000, should I still file a lawsuit in small claims court?
- Is a pretrial conference required or can I skip it and go right to trial?
- Can I sue a federal agency in small claims court?