You've been hard at work preparing for your small claims case. You've arranged for your witnesses to be at trial, and you have all your papers and photographs ready. It's getting close to the time for the judge of the Virginia small claims court to decide who wins.
Now's a good time to get an idea of what happens after the small claims trial is over so you can plan your next steps. What can you do if you win? What if you lose? Whether you're the plaintiff (the person who filed the suit) or the defendant (the person who's being sued), you should know about some of your options.
After the judge has seen all of the evidence and has listened to you, the defendant and all of the witnesses, he'll make a decision in the case, that is, declare who won and who lost. The decision is called a judgment. The judgment may come:
- Immediately at the end of the case, and the judge will either give each of you a copy of the judgment or send it to you both in the mail later on. In Virginia, it's common for a judge to make a decision immediately
- After the judge takes some time to think about the case and all of the evidence. This is called taking the case "under consideration." The judge will then mail a copy of the decision to each of you later
Technically, the case is over when the judge makes a decision and it's entered into the court records by the court clerk. However, while the case may be over, you may still have some work to do, depending on whether either party thinks the judge made or mistake or whether the winner gets paid.
Not Happy about the Judgment?
Win or lose, you may have some options if you don't like the way the case turned out:
This is when you ask a higher court to look at the case because you think the judge made a mistake. In Virginia, either you or the defendant may file an appeal so long as the amount you sued for (or the the amount the defendant claimed that you owed him) is more than $50.
You have to file or "note" an appeal within 10 days after the judgment is entered into the court records, which usually is the same day of the judge's decision. You file an appeal by completing and filing a Notice of Appeal, which is a sworn statement detailing why you think the judge made a mistake. You also have to pay a fee for filing an appeal and you also have to pay or "post" an appeal bond within 30 days after the notice is filed. The district court clerk court will tell you the amount of the appeal bond, can give you the required notice form, and tell you the amount of the filing fee.
Your appeal goes to the Circuit Court, where you can request a jury if the appeal involves more than $100. An appeal can be a complex matter. It's a lot more formal than the small claims trial, more stringent court rules apply, and you can hire an attorney to represent you in court. It's a good idea to talk to an attorney if you're thinking about filing an appeal.
Relief from Judgment
The plaintiff or the defendant can file a motion for relief from judgment or "motion for relief," which essentially asks the court for a new trial. This is commonly used when the defendant wants the judge to void or "vacate" a default judgment, a judgment for the plaintiff that was entered because the defendant failed to show up for trial. Another common example is when a plaintiff's case was dismissed because he didn't show up for trial. In the motion he'll ask the judge to vacate the dismissal so that he can continue or refile the case against defendant.
To be successful on this type of motion, you need to "show cause," that is, have a good reason that justifies a new trial. Some examples of good cause include:
- Showing that you were unable to attend the first trial because of an emergency, such as illness
- You've discovered new evidence that wasn't available when the first trial took place
- You actually paid the plaintiff's claim or damages before the trial, or the plaintiff told you that you didn't have to pay (called "releasing you from liability")
If you're the plaintiff and you win the case (or the defendant and you win on a "counterclaim"), and the judge orders the defendant to pay all or some of your claim, you need to begin collection efforts if the defendant doesn't pay you as ordered in the judgment. This may include having to appear at one or more hearings and possibly even taking some of the defendant's property and belongings. This can be a long and complicated process that may require the help of an attorney.
Questions for Your Attorney
- After the judge entered a judgment for me, the defendant told him that he wanted to appeal. Is there anyway I can challenge or fight his request for an appeal?
- How much will you charge to represent me on an appeal from small claims judgment?
- Can I file a counterclaim against the plaintiff when I appeal a judgment that was entered against me in small claims court?
Related Resources on Lawyers.comsm
- Start the process with our Virginia Small Claims Worksheet
- Next in the Small Claims series: Collecting the Judgment in Virginia
- Success in Small Claims Court
- Small Claims Court Terms
- Defending a Small Claims Case
- Visit our Small Claims Court Forum for more help.