The court assigns a case number and a tentative court date when a small claim is filed. The date is approximately 90 to 120 days after the filing date, which gives the plaintiff time to serve the complaint on the defendant and return proof of service to the court.
Proof of Service
Proof of service must be returned to the court a minimum of ten working days before the assigned court date or the court date will be vacated. The proof of service documents that the defendant received a copy of the complaint and has been notified of the claim against him.
If you learn that you can't attend the hearing on the set date, request a continuance (postponement) as far in advance as possible. The judge will usually not grant more than one continuance.
Preparing for Trial
Prior to trial, both the plaintiff and the defendant should write down the facts and details of the case in the order in which events occurred. Both parties should bring all witnesses and necessary papers with them when they appear for the trial. The plaintiff must prove the amount of damages claimed.
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, agreements and so forth
You should bring three copies of any documentation that will be presented as evidence.
Court Room Procedures
Your hearing will take place in a courtroom with many people whose cases have also been scheduled for the same day. The clerk calls the role to see who is in attendance. Once this is complete, in cases where only the plaintiff appeared the court generally issues a "default judgment" in favor of the plaintiff. The court generally dismisses cases where only the defendant appeared; this means that the plaintiff isn't entitled to relief on his claim(s). It's important to be on time for court, no matter what side you're on.
For the cases where both the plaintiff and defendant appear in court, the judge asks the parties to try to settle their dispute or use mediation services. Small claim cases, where both parties are present and the issue can't be settled or mediated, are heard in case number order. Cases where attorneys are involved are heard first.
Small claims cases usually take no more than 15 minutes, so it's very important to plan what you'll say ahead of time. Your story should be well organized and to the point. It is best to stay calm and always be polite.
In Nevada, there are no provisions for the compensation of attorneys in small claims court but either party may retain counsel. Be aware that even if you win, you can't recover attorneys' fees or costs from the other party.
Alternative Dispute Resolution
You might consider alternative dispute resolution, which means resolving the case outside of court. Mediation is one such method; a neutral person helps the parties find a solution acceptable to both of them. The judge will offer a chance to have your case mediated at the beginning of your hearing. You should be prepared to let the judge know if you accept. There is nothing to lose because if you aren't happy with the result you may still go ahead with your case.
Both sides may bring witnesses who either have firsthand knowledge of the facts or are experts on the subject matter of the dispute. Documents or other evidence may also be presented for the judge to consider.
After both sides have presented their arguments, the judge may ask questions or allow cross-examination. The judge will then issue a decision or may take the case "under advisement." This means the decision is pending while the judge considers the facts or researches the law. The decision is then issued later in writing.
You should decide in advance if you want to have a court reporter present in court. They do charge an appearance fee and a transcript fee. If there is a chance that you may appeal the case, you will probably want a transcript.
If the defendant doesn't appear at the hearing, the plaintiff is generally awarded the judgment by default. The defendant has six months from the court date to file a motion with the court to have the default judgment set aside. If the court grants the defendant's motion to set aside the default judgment, a new trial is set and the court notifies the plaintiff of the new date by mail.
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?