You've been preparing for your small claims case for a while now. You've arranged for witnesses to be at trial and you have all the receipts and other documents ready. It's getting close to the time for the judge of the Hawaii small claims court to decide who wins the case.
Now's a good time to get an idea of what happens after the small claims trial is over. What can you do if you win? What if you lose? Whether you're the plaintiff (the person who filed the suit) or the defendant (the person who's being sued), you should know about some of your options.
When the judge makes a decision in the case, that is, decides who wins, it's called a judgment. The judge can announce the judgment:
- Immediately at the end of the case, and either give each party a copy of the judgment or send it to them in the mail
- After taking some time to think about the case and all of the evidence. This is called taking the case "under consideration." The judge will then mail a copy of the decision to each party
Not Happy about the Judgment?
Win or lose, you may have some options if you don't like the way the case turned out:
This is when you ask a higher court to look at the case because you think the judge made a mistake, either about the facts of the case or in applying the law to the case.
In Hawaii, neither party may appeal a decision from the small claims courts. The judge's decision is final.
Relief from Judgment
If you lose on your claim (plaintiff) or counterclaim (defendant), you may ask the court to alter or set aside the judgment within 10 days after the judgment is entered into the court records, which is usually the same day the judge announces her decision. For example, you may ask the judge to correct a mistake made in computing the amount of damages or money you have to pay the winning party. Or, you may want to present new evidence that you discovered after the trial that you didn't know about or wasn't available at the time of trial. You need to file a "Motion to Set Aside," which you can get from the court clerk or online. The clerk can also tell you the fee for filing the motion.
Dismissal and Default
If your claim or counterclaim was dismissed because you didn't show up for trial, or if the other party got a "default judgment" because you didn't show up for trial, you can re-file your claim if file and the judge grants your Motion to Set Aside. It has to be filed within 10 days after the dismissal or default judgment. And, you have to show a good reason why you didn't appear at trial, such as illness. If the judge grants your motion, a new trial will be scheduled.
If you're the plaintiff and you win the case (or you're the defendant and you win on your counterclaim), and the judge orders the defendant to pay all or some of your claim, you need to begin collection efforts if the defendant doesn't pay you as ordered in the judgment. This may include having to appear at one or more hearings and possibly even taking some of the defendant's property and belongings. This can be a long and complicated process that may require the help of an attorney.
Once you're paid, you need to file a "Satisfaction of Judgment" with the small claims court. You can get the form from the court clerk or online.
Questions for Your Attorney
- It's been nine days since the trial of my small claims case and I just noticed that the judge made a mistake in calculating the damages that I'm owed. Is there anyway I can get an extension of the time for filing a Motion to Set Aside? Can you file it before the time runs out? How much will you charge?
- I was sued in small claims and lost. Since then a witness has come forward that will prove that I should have won. If I file a Motion to Set Aside, can I file a counterclaim against the plaintiff, even though I didn't file one when I was sued originally?
- I had no idea that I was sued in small claims court and a default judgment was entered against me. The trial was about a month ago, and I just found out from a friend who read about it in a local paper. Is there anyway I can fight this?