You've been preparing for your small claims case for a while now. You've arranged for your witnesses to be at trial and you've got all of your pictures, bills and canceled checks organized. It's getting close to the time for the judge of a Kentucky small claims court to decide who wins the case.
Don't sit back and relax, though. Now that you're ready, it'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.
It's the beginning of the end of the case when the judge makes a decision, that is, decides who won. The decision is called a judgment. The judge may announce the judgment:
- Immediately at the end of the case, and either give you and each party a copy of the judgment before they leave 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 court clerk will mail a copy of the decision to each party
Technically, the case is over when the judge makes a decision and it's entered into the court records by the court clerk. However, while the case may be over, you may still have some work to do, depending on whether either of you thinks the judge made a mistake or whether the winner gets paid.
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. In Kentucky, either the plaintiff or the defendant can appeal. So, if you're the plaintiff and you won, the defendant may appeal. Or, if you think the judge should have awarded you more money, you may appeal. The appeal will be heard by the circuit court.
You have to file an appeal within 10 days after the judgment is entered into the court records. You file an appeal by completing a Notice of Appeal and filing it with the clerk of the circuit court for the county where the small claims case was decided. Then, within 30 days after filing the Notice of Appeal, you have to file a Statement of Appeal. Here you explain why you think the judge made a mistake and what damages you want, that is, how much money or what property you want from the defendant. You have to pay a fee when you file these papers; the court clerk can tell you the current amounts.
An appeal can be a complex matter. It's a lot more formal than the small claims trial, and more stringent court rules apply. Also, the clerk can't give you blank forms for the Notice of Statement of Appeal, so you have to write them from scratch. So, it's a good idea to talk to an attorney if you're thinking about filing an appeal.
Relief from Judgment
The plaintiff or the defendant can file a motion for relief from judgment or "motion for relief," which essentially asks the court for a new trial. This is commonly used when the defendant wants the judge to void or "vacate" a default judgment, a judgment for the plaintiff that was entered because the defendant failed to show up at the hearing. Another common example is when a plaintiff's case was dismissed because he didn't show up for the hearing. In the motion he'll ask the judge to vacate the dismissal so that he can continue the case against the defendant.
To be successful on this type of motion, you need to "show cause," that is, have a good reason that justifies a new trial. Some examples of good cause include:
- Showing that you were unable to attend the first hearing because of an emergency, such as illness
- You've discovered new evidence that wasn't available for the first hearing
- You actually paid the plaintiff's claim or damages before the hearing, or the plaintiff said told you that you didn't owe him anything (called "releasing you from liability")
If you're the plaintiff and you win the case, and the judge orders the defendant to pay you or turnover certain property to you, you need to begin collection efforts if the defendant doesn't do what the judgment orders him to do. This may include having to appear at one or more hearings and possibly even taking some of the defendant's property and belongings. This is the same if you're the defendant and you won on a counterclaim. Collecting on the judgment can be a long and complicated process that may require the help of an attorney.
Questions for Your Attorney
- I won my small claims case and the defendant filed a Notice of Appeal. Can I challenge or fight his request for an appeal? I don't think he has a good reason for the appeal.
- How much will you charge to represent me on an appeal from small claims judgment?
- Can I file a counterclaim against the plaintiff when I appeal judgment that was entered against me in small claims court?