After the complaint has been filed and the defendant served, both sides need to prepare their case for court. The judge will decide the case based on the evidence presented by you and the other party. Therefore, you should come to court prepared to prove your case.
Write a Case Summary
As part of your preparation for trial, you may want to write a summary of your side of the case and refer to it during the trial. This way you won't forget to mention any important details.
Bring Estimates to Court
It's important to have written estimates of costs relating to your claim. The plaintiff and the defendant may want to bring estimates if the amount of damages is in dispute.
Set New Court Date
If you need to move your trial to a later date, which is known as a continuance, you should notify the clerk in the small claims office. A continuance is allowed only for a good reason. Generally, the closer to the trial date a continuance is requested the more compelling a reason must be for the court to consider it.
Preparing for Trial
You should gather documents, select witnesses, prepare what you will say in court, decide on the order in which you will present your evidence and formulate questions to ask the witnesses. Extra copies of documents should be made for the judge and the other party.
You will want to present evidence at the trial. Evidence is anything that helps you prove your case. 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 agreements
It is up to the plaintiff on the original claim and the defendant on any counterclaim to persuade the judge that their position and claim is valid.
Determine if there are any witnesses who can come to court with you and help you tell your story. You should avoid witnesses who only know what someone else told them, that is, only have second hand information. Try to get witnesses who know relevant facts because they were there.
If a witness is reluctant about appearing in court or you are unsure whether the witness will attend the hearing, you may make a written request to the court for a subpoena, which will then be served on the proposed witness and will compel the witness to attend the trial.
A witness fee and sheriff's fees for the service of the subpoena must be paid by the party who wants the witness to testify. If the fee isn't paid, the witness isn't required to attend the trial and testify. The cost of these fees will be made a part of the court's judgment.
If you receive a subpoena to appear as a witness, you must obey it since it is a court order. Failure to appear in court in response to a subpoena could place you in contempt of court.
On the day of the trial, both parties must appear on time before the judge and testify. The court will also hear the defendant's counterclaim, if one has been filed. The plaintiff and defendant may question or dispute each other's testimony during the hearing.
Even though trials in small claims court are generally informal, you are still expected to conduct yourself in a courteous manner. A judge may hold you in contempt of court if discourteous conduct or arguments continue after a warning by the judge. If you are held in contempt of court, you may be fined or jailed. Do not argue with the judge, interrupt the other party or witnesses or make personal attacks on any person.
After both parties have presented their witnesses, testimony and evidence, the judge will either decide the case or will take the case under advisement and inform you later of the decision.
If the defendant doesn't appear at the time and place set for hearing and doesn't request or receive a continuance, the court may, after hearing the plaintiff's evidence, award a default judgment to the plaintiff without the defendant being present.
The judge may dismiss the case if the plaintiff fails to appear at the time and place set for hearing and doesn't request or receive a continuance. The judge may also dismiss the case if the defendant was not properly served with notice of the small claims lawsuit.
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?