Small claims courts are usually part of a county district or superior court where private litigants are able to bring and resolve small money claims before a judge, or even a jury in some states, in an expeditious and less formalized manner.
Who Can Sue in Small Claims Court?
Anyone who is at least 18 years of age may file a lawsuit in Florida's small claims court, although your parent or guardian may file for you if you are under 18. A business entity, whether a partnership, corporation or sole proprietorship, may also sue. You may or may not use an attorney.
What Type of Case Can Be Brought in Small Claims Court?
Florida provides that you may bring a lawsuit in small claims court for any action involving goods or services sold, loans, security deposit refunds, unpaid rent, unlawful detainer actions, property damage or small personal injury claims.
What Type of Damages Can You Seek and Are There Limits?
Florida limits any money recovery to $5,000. Should the defendant file a counterclaim that exceeds the jurisdictional threshold, your claim will be transferred to the regular county court for all subsequent proceedings.
In What Jurisdiction Do I File a Claim?
Venue, or the court where your claim is to be filed and heard, is determined by where the defendant lives, where the cause of action arose or where the subject property is located. If a contract is involved, you can file in the county where it was signed or where the breach occurred.
What Does a Small Claims Suit Cost?
You need to consult the appropriate county court's fee schedule for filing a lawsuit because the fees change periodically. Currently, for claims under $100, your filing fee is $55. Claims between $100.01 and $500 require a fee of $80 and, for claims of $500.01 to $2,500, a fee of $175. If your claim is between $2,501 and $5000, the fee is $300. There is also a summons fee of $10 for each named defendant.
If the defendant lives in Florida, you may send notice of your claim by certified mail. If mailing is unavailable or does not result in service, you can use the sheriff's office for a fee or serve the defendant by private process server. Improper service or a failure to effectuate service will delay prosecution of your claim.
What Are the Steps to Filing a Complaint?
Obtain and complete a Statement of Claims from the county clerk's office, and attach two copies of any supporting documents to be filed with the clerk. You will need to specify if a business defendant is a corporation or an individual doing business under a fictitious name. For corporate entities, include the name of an officer or registered agent for process of service.
The form will require your detailed description of the basis for your claim. If you want a jury trial, you need to request one in your Statement of Claim.
The clerk will prepare the Summons and Notice to Appear to be sent by certified mail to the defendant or served by the sheriff's office or private process server.
What Happens After a Complaint Is Filed?
A pre-trial conference will be scheduled by the clerk. If the defendant fails to appear, a default judgment will be entered in your favor. You can argue your case before the judge at this appearance, or you and the defendant may be sent to mediation.
If you are unable to agree to a resolution, a trial date will be scheduled.
Consult a Small Claims Attorney in Florida
The laws and procedures governing small claims courts differ among the states, and each court has its own process and rules. Consider talking to a Florida small claims lawyer regarding the appropriate venue, damages and evidence needed to prove your claim and to ensure a smooth prosecution of your claim.