In New Hampshire, you may represent yourself in small claims court, or you may hire an attorney to do so. An attorney can give you advice about your suit and what evidence you'll need to win your case. In most instances, you may ask the court to include your attorney's fees in the amount of the judgment if you win the case.
The district court clerk may help you complete the Small Claims Complaint, like telling you whose name goes where and where you should sign. She can't, however, give you legal advice about your claim, such as whether the statute of limitations on your claim has expired. After your papers are filed, the clerk will send you a copy of the completed form. He'll also make sure that a copy of it is sent to (or "served on") the defendant.
The papers sent to the defendant will show a date by which he has to "answer" or your complaint, otherwise he may lose automatically. The court clerk will schedule a hearing after the defendant answers and he'll notify you both about the date and time of the hearing.
Trial or "Hearing"
Sometimes a case is settled before the "hearing" or trial, such as when the defendant pays what it owes you, for example. Other times your case may be heard by a mediator. He listens to you and the defendant, asks questions, and tries to get you both to reach an agreement. If neither of these happens in your case, a judge will hold a hearing and decide who wins. At the hearing, you, the defendant and all witnesses will be sworn in. You'll tell your side of the story first, and the defendant will get a turn. You'll each have a chance to ask each other question, as well as question any witnesses.
There are no jury trials in the New Hampshire small claims court. The exception is when you sue for more than $1,500 and the defendant demands a jury. If this happens, the case will be moved out of the small claims court and into the local superior court where it will be a much more complicated legal process for both parties.
The judgment is the decision given by the judge. After hearing the arguments of both parties, the judge may make an immediate decision, or she may need more time to think about the case. When this happens, you'll be notified by mail when the decision has been made.
If the judgment is in favor of the defendant, the case is over and you can't recover any money or damages. If the judgment is in your favor, it will specify how much the defendant must pay you. Both you and the defendant, however, have 30 days to appeal the decision, that is, ask that the case be looked again by a higher court.
Small Claims Court Procedural Rules
The Rules of the District Courts of the State of New Hampshire, and especially the "Rules for Small Claims Actions" within those rules, can tell you more about how the small claims process works.
Questions for Your Attorney
- I have a claim against a general contractor for $5,900. How much will you charge me to file suit against him in a court other than small claims court?
- My family and I moved out of a public school system and it won't give me a refund on administrative fees I paid at the beginning of the year for my son. Can I sue the school district in small claims court?
- If I hire you to go to small claims court, do I have to be there at trial, too?