In Vermont, a small claims lawsuit is filed in the Small Claims Department of the Superior Court. It provides a quick, informal and inexpensive way of resolving many types of disputes. Small claims cases are filed with the clerk of court in the appropriate county.
The person or business that files a claim to sue another is called the plaintiff. The person or business that's sued is called the defendant. You're permitted, but not required, to be represented by an attorney.
Individuals or Businesses May Sue
Any person 18 years of age or older may file a small claims lawsuit. A parent or guardian may file on behalf of a minor child. A business, whether owned by an individual, a partnership or a corporation, may also file a lawsuit in small claims court.
In Vermont, a small claims case is a lawsuit to settle minor disputes among parties where the dollar amount involved is $5,000 or less, excluding costs, interest and attorneys' fees. If the amount you're owed isn't significantly more than $5,000, you may want to cut your losses and go after only $5,000 of it, so that you can sue in small claims court, where the procedures are simpler and faster than in other courts.
Cases Suitable for Small Claims Court
Many different kinds of cases go to small claims court. Some of the most common cases involve:
- Goods or services sold
- Money loans
- Auto negligence
- Security deposit refunds
- Unpaid rent
- Minor accidents
- Landlord/tenant disputes
- Credit card problems
- Car repair disputes
- Property damage
- Breach of contract
- Product liability
Statute of Limitations
The statute of limitations is the amount of time you have to file your lawsuit after an incident occurs. The length of time you have to file a claim in court varies depending on the subject matter and circumstances of your claim. Therefore, you should file your case as soon as possible.
The clerk of court will provide you with a form to fill out to state your claim. This form will tell the other party why you're suing.
An attorney can advise you on the validity of your claim as well as on what evidence you'll need to prove your claim. In most cases you may ask the court to include the attorney's fees in the amount of the judgment if you win the case.
The clerk of court will assist with the preparation of a statement of claim and other papers to be filed in the lawsuit at the request of any litigant. The clerk also furnishes all parties with a memorandum of the day and hour set for the pretrial conference and the trial, if there's to be a trial.
The defendant is required to file his answer in the court clerk's office within the time limit specified in the court's notice. If he fails to do this, the court will enter a default judgment in your favor.
At trial, you'll explain your claims and support your position first. This is when you can bring your witnesses. The law requires the person who brings the case to prove that they have a valid claim. Only the defendant has the right to request a trial by jury in Vermont small claims court.
Sometimes the judge won't decide the case immediately. Instead, the judge may send the ruling, or judgment, to the parties at a later date. If the judgment is in your favor, you're entitled to seek payment from the losing party.
Small Claims Court Procedural Rules
In Vermont, small claims courts generally follow the Vermont Rules of Small Claims Procedure. These rules provide the framework for how the court operates and handles disputes.
Questions for Your Attorney
- If my claim is for over $5,000, should I still file a lawsuit in small claims court?
- Is a pretrial conference required or can I skip it and go right to trial?
- Can I sue a federal agency in small claims court?