After your complaint has been filed and the defendant served, you need to prepare your case for court. Your proof must be more convincing than the other side's proof for you to win the case. Proof consists of the testimony of witnesses and physical evidence.
All small claims court sessions are open to the public. You may attend any of these courtroom proceedings to familiarize yourself with the procedures before your trial.
Start by making a detailed list of what happened so that the facts are clear in your mind. Also, make a list of the evidence you want to bring with you to court that will support the facts.
The evidence you should bring to trial to support your claims or defenses includes:
- Documents such as contracts, notes, leases, receipts, canceled checks, credit card statements and so forth
Bring original documents and at least one clear copy of each.
Talk to people who may have witnessed any of the events in dispute. If you are suing on the basis of defective merchandise or faulty repairs, it may be helpful to have an expert witness testify on your behalf.
You may bring to court witnesses to testify to their personal knowledge and observations relevant to the case. Do not bring letters from witnesses to your trial because they are not admissible even though written under oath and notarized. If any witness refuses to attend the trial, you may have the court order the witness to come to court with a subpoena.
Review Date and Trial
A trial in small claims court is a simple and somewhat informal court hearing where the judge listens to both parties as well as their witnesses and examines any physical objects that they have brought and then decides the case.
After your claim is filed, the court will probably set a date to review the facts in your case. Many small claims court cases are settled at this time. If you have a review hearing but your case is not settled, it will go to trial. All cases are heard by a circuit court judge and will be decided by the judge if both parties can't reach an agreement.
Arrive early so you have time to find the small claims courtroom and to get organized. If you fail to appear on time for trial, the court may enter a judgment in favor of the other side. Bring your physical evidence and witnesses, if any.
You will have to wait while routine matters and other cases are heard. When your case is called, step up before the judge with your witnesses. If the other side doesn't show up, the judge will probably enter a judgment in your favor but may require you to present proof, so be prepared. If your opponent appears for trial, the parties and their witnesses will be placed under oath and must tell the truth.
The plaintiff will present the case first. The plaintiff should tell the judge exactly what happened, mentioning dates, times and places. The witnesses, if any, should be questioned and all physical evidence given to the judge. After each plaintiff's witness testifies, the defendant has the opportunity to ask questions. When the plaintiff finishes presenting proof, it is the defendant's turn. The defendant may testify, ask questions of witnesses and present physical evidence to the judge. The plaintiff has the right to question each of the defendant's witnesses. The plaintiff and defendant can also question each other.
Do not interrupt or argue with any witness. Listen carefully so you can tell the judge why you disagree when it is your turn to speak. If the judge asks you questions, answer them clearly and directly.
After hearing both sides the judge will, based upon the law and the facts, reach a decision called a judgment. The court may award the plaintiff all or part of the money claimed or find in favor of the defendant. The judgment is in writing and entered on the court records. The judgment will require the losing party to pay the winning party's court costs. The party who wins the case will be required to write the order granting judgment.
Questions for Your Attorney
- Can an attorney come with me into the courtroom?
- What should I take with me to court?
- What happens if I can't make it to court on my scheduled trial date?