NY Witnesses at a Small Claims Trial

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Witnesses are people who come to court to tell what they've seen or heard. These people should either be witnesses who saw what happened or experts on the subject matter of the claim involved.

Before you bring any witnesses to your trial, discuss the case with potential witnesses who have personal knowledge of the case, and decide who can provide evidence in your favor.

Whether you're the plaintiff or the defendant, you may bring witnesses to your trial to support your story.

Who Can Testify

Testimony is a sworn statement made by you or another person, given in court, before the judge or arbitrator. Anyone who knows something about your claim, including you, can testify during the hearing. For example, a person who saw what happened, or someone who has special or expert knowledge and experience concerning the subject of your claim, can be a witness at the hearing.

Expert Witnesses

An expert witness is someone who because of their education, training, skill or experience has more knowledge about a particular subject than the average person.

The testimony of a person who has special or expert knowledge and experience concerning the subject of your claim may be necessary for you to prove your case.

For example, if your claim involves the quality of medical care, you must find a doctor who is willing to give an opinion, in court, about the quality of the care you received.

While you might find an expert witness who will testify at no cost to you, it's more likely you'll have to pay for expert witness testimony.


If a witness won't testify voluntarily, you can ask the small claims court clerk to issue a "subpoena." A subpoena is a legal document that commands the named person to appear in court to testify or to produce records. The small claims court clerk will assist you in preparing the necessary documents. However, you can't use a subpoena to compel an expert witness to appear.

You must arrange for service of the subpoena on the appropriate person. The person subpoenaed is entitled to a $15 witness fee and in some cases travel expenses, which must be paid at the time the subpoena is served. You are responsible for paying these fees.

Anyone who isn't a party to the small claim and who is 18 years of age or older (including a friend or relative) can serve the subpoena. Neither the plaintiff nor the defendant may serve the subpoena.

A subpoena can be served any time before the hearing. However, a witness should be given a "reasonable" amount of time before he must appear. Generally, it's considered reasonable to serve the subpoena at least five days before the hearing date. This will allow the person subpoenaed sufficient time to prepare the items you request or appear at the hearing.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • Do I need to have witnesses?
  • Can a witness testify by telephone?
  • What can I do if one of my witnesses changed their story and ended up telling lies during my hearing?
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