In Maryland, the small claims court is a division of the district court. It handles cases where the amount in dispute is $5,000 or less. Court procedures are less formal than other Maryland courts so it is simple enough for a person to file a claim or to answer a claim without an attorney, although parties may have attorneys represent them if they choose. Small claims cases are decided by a judge, not a jury.
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.
To be tried as a small claim in district court, your case must meet the following conditions:
- Your claim is for $5,000 or less
- Your claim is for money only
- You aren't planning to request any discovery such as interrogatories, which are written questions that the other side must answer under oath in writing
Individuals or Companies May Sue
An individual or company may file a small claim. An individual must be 18 years of age or older to file a claim in small claims court. Minors may sue through a legal guardian or an adult friend.
If you lose your case, you may appeal the decision by filing a motion for judicial review. You have 30 days from the time judgment was entered to file an appeal to the circuit court, where a completely new trial will be held.
Cases Suitable for Small Claims Court
Many different kinds of cases go to small claims court. The most common cases involve:
- Car accidents
- Property damage
- Landlord/tenant disputes
Statute of Limitations
Under the law, there are limits on how long you have to bring any lawsuit. These limits are called "statute of limitations." In Maryland, most cases must be filed within three years of the time when it was first possible to sue, but some cases must be filed sooner and some cases may be filed later.
You will have to pay certain fees when you file your case. If you win your case, the judge may order the defendant to reimburse you for your court costs.
You won't be able to recover the value of your time, travel expenses to and from court or compensation for your inconvenience and aggravation.
Defendant's Notice of Intention to Defend
As a defendant, you'll receive a complaint describing the reason for the suit and a summons notifying you to appear in court for the trial. You must appear in court to explain your side of the story and you must file a notice of intention to defend.
Within 15 days after receiving the summons, notify the court in writing that you intend to appear and contest the case. You may do this by filling out the notice on the complaint form and mailing it to the court. If you appear for trial without having sent the written notice of your intention to defend, the case may be postponed.
If you can't appear at the designated time, you may request a continuance, which is a postponement of the hearing until a future date. If you don't appear, or the continuance is denied, the judge may rule against you for the amount claimed, which is known as a default judgment, and you will then owe the plaintiff the entire amount requested.
If you believe the claim against you is justified and you owe the money, you may try to settle with the plaintiff for a lesser sum or an installment payment arrangement in order to avoid having to go to trial.
Counterclaim, Cross-Claim and Third Party Claim
A counterclaim is a statement by the defendant alleging other facts to establish a claim by the defendant against the plaintiff. If you have a claim against the plaintiff and you want to sue the plaintiff, you may file a counterclaim within ten days after you receive the summons.
If you are one of several defendants, you may sue another defendant in a cross-claim if you believe another defendant is liable to you for the money the plaintiff claims you owe.
If you believe someone who isn't named as a defendant owes you money that should be used to satisfy any judgment the plaintiff may win from you, you may file a third party claim at least ten days before trial.
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?