In Rhode Island, small claims court provides a quick and inexpensive way to resolve minor disputes. There are simple procedures for small claims and specifically designed forms that don't require legal training to understand. The process is simple enough for a person to handle their case without an attorney but a person may hire an attorney if they want one.
The small claims court can grant only a judgment for money, it can't order a person to do or not do something. The person or business that files a claim to sue another is called the plaintiff. The person or business that is sued is called the defendant.
Parties in Small Claims Actions
Any individual, business or corporation may bring a small claims suit for the recovery of money when the amount requested is $2,500 or less.
Where to File a Small Claims Case
A small claims case may be filed in the division of the district court where either the plaintiff or the defendant lives. If the plaintiff is a corporation, the case must be filed in the division where the defendant lives.
The plaintiff gives up the right to appeal by using small claims court. There is a waiver of the right to appeal on the small claims form that is signed by the plaintiff or the plaintiff's attorney. However, the defendant can appeal to the superior court if the plaintiff wins the case. The defendant has two days, not including weekends or legal holidays, after judgment is entered to file an appeal form at the district court clerk's office.
Cases Suitable for Small Claims Court
Many different kinds of cases go to small claims court. Examples of cases that are handled in small claims court include:
- Collection cases
- Consumer claims
- Landlord/tenant disputes
Personal injury cases and cases relating to damages from an auto or other accident are not heard in small claims court.
Statute of Limitations
Under the law, there are limits on how long you have to bring any lawsuit. These limits are called "statute of limitations." Most cases must be filed within two or three years of the time when it was first possible to sue, but some cases must be filed sooner and some cases may be filed later.
The plaintiff has to pay certain fees when a case is filed. If the plaintiff wins, the judge may order the defendant to reimburse the plaintiff's court costs.
When the defendant receives notice of the small claims filing, he or she may file a "counterclaim." A counterclaim is a statement filed by the defendant claiming the plaintiff owes money or property to the defendant.
Defending a Case
The defendant doesn't need to have an attorney even if the plaintiff has one. There is no charge to defend a case unless the defendant wants to hire an attorney. If the defendant loses the case, either after trial or for not answering the plaintiff's claim, the defendant will need to pay the plaintiff's court fee plus a service charge for each defendant served by a sheriff or constable in addition to the judgment.
Questions for Your Attorney
- If my claim is for just over the dollar limit, should I still file a lawsuit in small claims court?
- Can an attorney help me with my small claims case even though I can't be represented by one in small claims court?
- Can I sue a federal agency in small claims court?