In Georgia, small claims cases are heard in magistrate court, which may also be referred to as small claims court. Court procedures are informal and simple enough for a person to file a claim or to answer a claim made against him without a lawyer.
Claims are limited to $15,000 and jury trials aren't allowed. The small claims court offers a quick and inexpensive process for claim resolution.
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.
The court can't give advice on whom to sue. The court may assist with filing out the necessary forms.
Cases Heard by Judge without a Jury
Magistrate court cases are heard and decided by a judge without a jury. A chief magistrate, who may be assisted by one or more magistrates, presides over each of Georgia's 159 magistrate courts.
Either party may appeal to the superior court for a new trial. Appeals must be filed within 30 days.
Individuals or Businesses May Sue
An individual or business may file a small claim in magistrate court.
If the defendant counterclaims for more than $15,000, the case may be transferred to the appropriate court.
Small claims court can't hear disputes involving more than $15.000. If the amount you are asking for is over $15.000, the magistrate court doesn't have the legal authority to hear your case, and it must be filed in another court.
Cases Suitable for Small Claims Court
Small claims court may be used only for certain types of cases. Examples of problems often taken to magistrate court include:
- A tenant refusing to pay for damages in excess of the security deposit
- A landlord seeking to evict a tenant for nonpayment of rent
- A landlord failing to return a security deposit
- A merchant refusing to replace, repair or refund faulty merchandise
- A person refusing to return money or property borrowed from another
- A dry cleaner refusing to pay for lost or damaged clothing
- A driver refusing to pay for repairs after damaging someone's car
- An auto mechanic charging for work not done, unnecessary repairs or faulty workmanship
Statute of Limitations
Under the law, there is limit on how long you have to bring a lawsuit. This limit is called the "statute of limitations." The law won't allow you to sue if you wait too long. In many cases, you must bring your lawsuit within two years of when the problem arises.
Self-Representation or Using an Attorney
A person may file a claim in magistrate court with or without an attorney. You may hire an attorney at your expense if you choose. The court doesn't appoint attorneys for civil cases.
In some counties, mediation is recommended or required before a judge will hear the case.
Answering a Claim
After receiving the summons and claim, the defendant has 30 days to file an answer with the court. The day after the date of service is counted as day one. If the 30th day falls on a day when the court is closed, the answer is due on the next day the court is open.
On the 31st day after service on the defendant, the case goes into default. However, the defendant has an additional 15 days to open the default by filing a late answer and paying all court costs along with the answer. No answer may be filed beyond the 45th day following service.
A counterclaim is a statement by the defendant alleging other facts to establish a claim by the defendant against the plaintiff.
Questions for Your Attorney
- If my claim is for just over the dollar limit, should I still file a lawsuit in small claims court?
- Will an attorney assist me with my small claims case if I want to represent myself at the trial?
- Can I sue a federal agency in small claims court?