In Tennessee, a small claims court may schedule a pretrial hearing, which is also referred to as a pretrial conference, before your trial. You'll need to go to trial only if an agreement doesn't occur during the pretrial hearing.
A trial date is scheduled by the court if the dispute can't be settled at the pretrial hearing. The parties must appear at the trial with all witnesses and documentation.
Only the plaintiff and defendant must attend the pretrial hearing. Both the plaintiff and the defendant should bring any documents to assist in proving their case. They'll be given an opportunity to meet with a mediator to see if they can come to an agreement. If the parties don't come to an agreement, a date is scheduled for everyone to return for a trial. If the case does settle, the terms of the settlement agreement is set out by the judge, signed by the parties and filed with the clerk.
If the defendant fails to appear at the pretrial hearing, the court enters a default judgment against the defendant. A final judgment is entered by the court against the defendant who defaulted if the judge finds there's sufficient evidence to show that damages claimed in the lawsuit are accurate.
If the defendant does appear at the pretrial hearing and admits to owing the plaintiff money or property, the case could be settled. If the defendant needs time to pay and the plaintiff agrees to the terms, the court may enter a stipulation. The stipulation states the terms and conditions for settling the case.
If the parties are unable to reach an agreement through stipulation or mediation, they must appear for trial on the date and at the time scheduled by the clerk during the pretrial conference. If your case is set for trial, be prepared and on time. Have documents, photographs and witnesses ready.
At trial, both parties have the opportunity to speak to the judge and ask questions of each other and witnesses. The judge may ask questions of the plaintiff, defendant and witnesses as needed. The judge considers all evidence and testimony. The ruling of the judge is written in the form of a judgment. Sometimes, the judge doesn't make a decision at trial, and the judgment is mailed to both parties.
The evidence you should bring to trial to support your claims or defenses includes:
- Documents such as contracts, notes, leases and receipts
You should follow these general suggestions for courtroom conduct:
- Be on time for your trial
- Stick to the issues in dispute when presenting your case
- Be polite at all times and don't interrupt the judge, the defendant or any of the witnesses at any time
- If you don't understand something during the trial, ask the judge when it's your turn to speak
- If an offer to settle your dispute comes up during your trial, think about accepting it because it may be in your best interest to do so
Failure to Appear
If the defendant doesn't appear at trial, you're granted a default judgment for the amount of your claim, plus your filing and service costs. If you fail to appear at trial, the judge will dismiss your claim.
A final judgment is a legal document that states that one party is entitled to recover damages in a specified amount from another party. Interest is added on the amount awarded until the final judgment is satisfied.
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?