In Nebraska, there are several alternatives to suing in small claims court. You can try to settle the case out of court, you can participate in mediation, you can file a complaint with a government agency or you can retain an attorney to represent you in county court.
Before filing a small claims case, you should try to settle your dispute with the other party. An early settlement saves time and filing fees and you may increase your chances of getting your money because the defendant hasn't spent time and money preparing for court.
You may want to try to settle your dispute by first telephoning the other party. Be brief and stick to the facts. Tell the other party your position and exactly what you want. You must decide what kind of settlement you will accept before you call the other party.
If your initial settlement attempts don't get the desired results, you may want to write a demand letter. Your letter should clearly state what you want and you may want to ask for cooperation by a certain date. Date your letter and make a copy before you mail it. You may need a copy of the letter to present to the judge in small claims court if your attempt to settle is unsuccessful. Don't admit responsibility or guilt or state anything that might hurt your case because you may end up in court if settlement fails.
If you reached a settlement after you filed a small claims petition, you can file a dismissal of your petition and attach a copy of your settlement agreement to the dismissal. If a settlement is agreed to, the parties should notify the court prior to the time set for trial and the case will be dismissed or a judgment entered according to your agreement. The notice of settlement and request for dismissal should be in writing.
Even if you were unable to reach a settlement agreement, your attempt to settle the case gives the judge the impression that you are a reasonable person.
You may want to consider mediation if you were unable to settle your dispute by yourself. Mediation is a process which brings two or more parties together to resolve their dispute through negotiation.
In mediation, a trained neutral person called a "mediator" helps the parties reach a resolution to their dispute. Mediation is voluntary. All parties involved in the dispute must agree to mediation. Mediation leaves control of the outcome of a case to the parties.
The mediator doesn't decide the dispute but helps the parties communicate so they can try to settle the dispute themselves. Mediators won't provide any legal advice or recommend the terms of an agreement. Mediation can help you protect your privacy. Unlike courtroom proceedings, which are open to the public, mediation is a confidential process.
Nebraska has six court-approved mediation centers located throughout the state to assist individuals with settling disputes outside of the court system. If you would like to try mediation in your small claims case, contact a center near you.
The judge may give you an opportunity to participate in mediation on the day of your trial. If you are unable to reach an agreement, you can still have the judge hear your case and decide the outcome.
File a Complaint with Government Agency
There are many government agencies available to help you settle many kinds of disputes. Some agencies provide investigation and arbitration boards. Once you find an agency to help you handle your problem, you need to get the information necessary to pursue your claim including the estimated length of time it will take to follow through on your case. Find out exactly what the agency can and can't do for you.
Attorney Representation in County Court
There are some cases that should be filed in county court rather than small claims court, such as:
- If you are seeking an award of money in excess of $2,700
- If you want to be represented by an attorney because your case is complex or you aren't fluent in English
Once a plaintiff has filed a case in small claims court, the defendant can file a motion to remove the case to county court. Such a motion must be filed at least 48 hours before your small claims court trial. If the judge grants the motion, the case will be transferred to county court.
Questions for Your Attorney
- What should I do if the defendant hasn't paid me after we reached an agreement?
- Are there attorneys that specialize in helping resolve small claims without going to court?
- Can an attorney assist me during mediation?