Research

OK Alternatives to Small Claims Court

Is friend refusing to repay the money you loaned to him? Maybe your old landlord is refusing to return your security deposit or won't let you get your furniture and television out of your old apartment. These are the types of disputes that are handled by the Oklahoma small claims court. It's a court that's designed to be a fast, informal, and inexpensive way for people to get the money they're owed.

Some people don't want to file a lawsuit against a friend or relative. Other people simply don't like courtrooms or dealing with the "legal process." If this is you, there are some alternatives to filing a lawsuit in small claims court, such as:

  • Personal negotiation
  • Mediation
  • Arbitration

Any one of these tactics may help you get your money without having to step foot into a courtroom.

Personal Negotiation

Personal negotiation should be your first step, even if you're prepared to file a small claims lawsuit. All this involves is a simple phone call to the person who owes you money (she's called the "defendant" if you were to file a lawsuit) asking that she pay what's owed to you. Be polite and cordial. Maybe you can work out an agreement that benefits everyone.

If your initial conversations aren't getting you anywhere, then consider writing a demand letter. It's exactly what it sounds like: A letter demanding that the other person pay you within a specific period of time, like 15 or 30 days. To be effective, the letter should:

  • Briefly explain why you think the she owes you money
  • State exactly how much money you're demanding
  • Clearly state that you intend to take legal action, including filing a lawsuit in small claims court, if you're not paid within 15 or 30 days

At the very least, you should mail the letter certified mail, return receipt requested. When it's delivered to the other party, you'll get the return receipt confirming that it was delivered to her. Make sure you keep it (along with a copy of your letter) so that, if necessary, you can prove later that she got the letter.

Mediation

Mediation is an informal meeting between you, the other person, and a neutral third party, called a "mediator." Most of the time you'll meet together, but sometimes you and the other person will meet separately with the mediator. The mediator's job is to help you both reach an agreement. She can suggest different options to help you reach that agreement, and she may even suggest a particular course of action, but she can't force or order either of you to do anything.

In most instances, mediation will be offered at no or little cost to you or the other person. Depending the willingness of you both to negotiate and compromise, it can lead to a very quick and mutually satisfactory resolution of your claim.

The courts like mediation, mainly because it saves time and court resources. In fact, in Oklahoma, if you file a lawsuit in small claims court, the judge is likely to ask if you and the defendant might be able to settle the case. If you both agree that it's possible, the judge may ask you to mediate. Then, if you can't come to an agreement or settlement, or if either of you refuses to mediate, the case will go to trial.

Some Rules to Know

There are some things to keep in mind about mediation, such as :

  • It's not binding, meaning that, even if you and the other person reach an agreement, the mediator can't enforce it. So, if she later breaks or "breaches" the agreement, you may need to start the whole process over again (personal negotiation, writing a demand letter, filing a lawsuit, etc.)
  • The mediator can't provide legal or personal advice. She can only suggest possible ways to settle the matter and help you both make sure that you reach an agreement that's good for you both
  • It's you and the defendant that make the terms of the agreement, not the mediator. The mediator will only write down or document what you've agreed to
  • The mediator doesn't make a "decision" in the case like a judge would in the small claims court. That is, she doesn't decide who "won." Rather, she merely helps you reach an agreement
  • At any time, either party can withdraw from mediation
  • If you and the defendant don't reach an agreement through mediation you can still file a lawsuit in small claims court. In other words, you don't waive your right to file suit simply because you agree to mediation. This is true for the defendant, too, if he has a "counterclaim" against you, that is, he claims that you owe him money
  • Attorneys are usually not present during mediation. You can, however, hire an attorney to advise you about your claim, if you'd like

Arbitration

Arbitration is very similar to mediation. Here, a neutral third party, called an arbitrator, listens to both sides of the story, just like a mediator does, in the hopes of helping you reach an agreement. However, there are some important differences between arbitration and mediation:

  • If you and the defendant can't reach an agreement, the arbitrator will make a decision in the case, that is, decide if you're going to get paid and how much
  • The arbitrator's decision is binding, unless you and the defendant agree beforehand that it isn't binding. This means that it can be enforced by the arbitrator and, if necessary, the courts, if you or the defendant don't follow the decision
  • After going through arbitration, you can't file a lawsuit in an Oklahoma small claims court
  • Arbitration can be expensive. An arbitrator may charge over $125 for a four-hour block of time to listen to and decide your case. But, if you win, the costs of arbitration are usually added to the amount the defendant owes you

As with mediation, you and the defendant have to agree to arbitration. However, you both also have to agree on the arbitrator. The district court clerk in your county may have a list of arbitrators that you may contact. Or, you can contact the American Arbitration Association for a list of arbitrators in your area.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • I can't get the defendant to answer my phone calls or letters. Is there any benefit to offering to mediate?
  • The defendant agreed to mediate my claim, but now he won't meet with or talk to the mediator. What should I do now?
  • How much will you charge me to file a lawsuit and represent me in small claims court? Would a lawsuit and the court fees cost me less than an arbitrator?
Have a legal question?
Get answers from local attorneys.
It's free and easy.
Ask a Lawyer

Get Professional Help

Find a Consumer Law lawyer
Practice Area:
Zip Code:
 
How It Works
  1. Briefly tell us about your case
  2. Provide your contact information
  3. Connect with local attorneys
NEED PROFESSIONAL HELP?

Talk to an attorney

How It Works

  1. Briefly tell us about your case
  2. Provide your contact information
  3. Choose attorneys to contact you