People have minor disputes every day. Sometimes a mechanic isn't paid for car repairs he made for a customer, or a landlord refuses to refund a tenant's security deposit. Often, these disputes don't involve enough money to justify hiring an attorney. The attorney's fees may be close to or more than what you're owed. Or you may not be able to afford an attorney in the first place.
This is where small claims court can help. In Utah, the small claims court settles legal disputes that involve small amounts of money. The courts are designed to be easy to use, inexpensive, fast, and a lot less formal than the other Commonwealth courts.
You file a small claims case in the court for the area where the defendant lives or where the incident you're suing over happened. This could be in either the:
- Municipal justice court, if there is such a court in your city
- County justice court, if there is no city justice court, or
- District court if there is no municipal or county justice court
In Utah, there are 8 districts, and each district covers several counties. If you're uncertain about where to file your lawsuit, check with the clerk of the justice court or district court in your area.
The person or business that files a small claims lawsuit is called the plaintiff. The person or business that is sued is called the defendant. In Utah, you can represent yourself, or you can hire a lawyer to represent you in court.
Individuals or Businesses May Sue
Individuals, corporations, and other businesses, like partnerships and sole proprietorships, and can file suits and be sued in the small claims courts in Utah. If you're under 18 years old, your parent or legal guardian has to file the lawsuit for you (or "on your behalf"). If you're suing a business, you need to contact Utah's Department of Commerce to get the business's proper, legal name and the name of its registered agent (the person who accepts important documents on behalf the business).
In Utah, the most you can recover in small claims court is $7,500. If your claim is a little over $7,500, you may want to consider filing in small claims anyway and forget about recovering the full amount. It will be faster, easier, and less expensive than filing suit in another court. If your claim is a lot more than $7,500, you may want to talk to attorney to see what your chances are of recovering the full amount in another court.
Cases Suitable for Small Claims Court
Many different kinds of cases go to small claims court. Some of the most common involve:
- Goods or services sold
- Auto negligence
- Security deposit refunds
- Minor accidents
- Landlord/tenant disputes (but landlords can't file eviction actions in small claims court
- Car repair disputes
- Property damage
- Breach of contract
There are several things you can't sue for in small claims court, including claims against the state or a local government, divorce and child custody, and you can't use the court to have your legal name changed.
Statute of Limitations
This is how long you have to file a lawsuit after something happens. The time period is based upon the type of claim you have. For example, if you were injured in a car accident, you generally have four years from the date of the accident, or from the date that you "discovered" your injury, to file a "personal injury" lawsuit in Utah. The time periods can be shorter or longer, depending on your case. So, to be safe, you should file your lawsuit as soon as possible.
You file a small claims case by completing forms called a "Cover Sheet" and an "Affidavit." The Cover Sheet asks for information about you and the defendant (name, address, telephone number, etc.). In the Affidavit you state how much the defendant owes you and why. Samples of these forms and others are available online, but you can't use them to file your case. To file the case, you need to get the forms from the court clerk in your area.
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 court clerk may help you complete the Affidavit, like telling you whose name goes where and where you should sign. She can't, however, give you legal advice about your claim. The clerk will give you a copy of your completed Affidavit, which will show the date and time of your trial. It will also show a docket or case number that you can use to identify your case whenever you contact the clerk.
Sometimes a case is settled before the trial, such as when the defendant pays what it owes you, for example. If not, a trial will be held before a judge. Here, both you and the defendant, and your 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 questions, as well as question any witnesses.
There are no jury trials in Utah's small claims courts.
The judgment is the decision given by the judge. Usually, the judge will make a decision immediately after the trial. Sometimes, he 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 state how much the defendant owes you, including interest and your court costs.
Small Claims Court Procedural Rules
Questions for Your Attorney
- I have a claim against a general contractor for $7,800. How much will you charge me to file suit against him outside of small claims court?
- I live in Colorado. I rented a condominium for a vacation in Utah, and the owner-landlord refuses to return my security deposit. What can I do? Do I have to go back to Utah to file a lawsuit in small claims court?
- If I hire you to go to small claims court, do I have to be there at trial, too?
Related Resources on Lawyers.comsm
- Start the process with our Utah Small Claims Worksheet
- Next in the Small Claims series: Filing a Small Claims Suit in Utah
- Success In Small Claims Court
- Small Claims Court Terms
- Defending a Small Claims Court Case
- Visit our Small Claims Court Forum for more help