You've been preparing for your small claims case for a while now. You've arranged for your witnesses to be at trial and you have all of your receipts and other papers ready for the judge to look at. It's getting close to the time for the Washington small claims court make a decision about who's right.
Now's a good time to get an idea of what happens after the small claims trial is over. 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 so you can start thinking of some post-trial strategies.
It's the beginning of the end of the case when the judge makes a decision in the case, that is, who won. The decision is called a judgment. The judge can announce the judgment:
- Immediately at the end of the case, and either give each party a copy of the judgment or send it to them in the mail. This is common in Washington
- After taking 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 party
The judgment will state how much money is owed by the losing the party. That is, it will say exactly how much the defendant owes if the plaintiff wins, and how much the plaintiff owes if the defendant wins on a counterclaim (a claim arguing that the plaintiff did something wrong and owes the defendant money).
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, either about the facts of the case or in applying the law to the case.
In Washington, either party can appeal a decision from the small claims court. On appeal, the case will be decided by the superior court for the county where the small claims case was filed. There are some very specific rules and restrictions on who can appeal, when and how:
- If the total amount of the claim in the Notice of Small Claim is less than $250, then neither party may appeal. The small claims court's decision is final
- If you're the plaintiff and you win, you may appeal only if your claim was for $1,000 or more
- If you're the defendant and you win on a counterclaim, you may appeal only if your claim was for $1,000 or more
- If you're the plaintiff and you lose on a counterclaim, you may appeal only if the counterclaim was for $250 or more
There are several things you need to do in order to appeal. Within 30 days after the judgment is entered into the court records, which is usually the same day the judge announces the decision, you have to:
- Get a "Notice of Appeal, Case Information Cover Sheet" from the district court clerk and complete it
- Serve (or "deliver to") a copy of the Notice of Appeal on the other parties. The clerk can explain the options and fees for service, but usually it's done by a deputy sheriff, process server or by mail
- Pay the district court clerk a $20 transcript fee for an official written "record" of what happened during the trial in the small claims court (what was said and by whom, what evidence was presented, etc.)
- Pay the district court clerk the $200 fee for filing the appeal. You can pay in cash, or with a money order or cashier's check payable to the Clerk of the Superior Court
- Post a bond in a sum equal to twice the amount of judgment and costs, or twice the amount that's in dispute, whichever is greater. This must be paid in cash or by a surety, that is someone who guarantees payment of the money, such as a surety or bond company
- Pay a $40 appeal preparation processing fee to the district court
Neither party may be represented by a lawyer on the appeal. Also, the appeal will be decided on the record of the trial in the small claims court. So, generally, you won't be allowed to present new evidence on appeal, unless the superior court gives you permission.
Dismissal and Default
If your Notice of Small Claim or Counterclaim was dismissed (thrown out) because you didn't show up for trial, or if the other party got a "default judgment" because you didn't show up for trial, you can re-file your claim after you complete and file a "Motion to Vacate Judgment." You have to show a good reason why you didn't appear at trial, such as illness or you weren't served with notice of the trial, that is, you weren't told about the claim filed against you. The district court clerk can get you the form you need to file the motion, as well as tell you the fee for filing it and how long you have to file it. If the judge grants your motion, a new trial will be scheduled.
If you're the plaintiff and you win the case, 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 is the same for a defendant who wins on a counterclaim. The collection process 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
- A few days after the trial in small claims court, I found a witness who can prove that I should have won the case. Can I appeal and have the witness testify for the superior court?
- How much will you charge to look at my case and give me an opinion on whether I should appeal or not?
- Can I file a counterclaim against the plaintiff when I appeal judgment that was entered against me in small claims court?
Related Resources on Lawyers.comsm
- Start the process with our Washington Small Claims Worksheet
- Next in the Small Claims series: Collecting a Judgment in Washington
- Success In Small Claims Court
- Small Claims Court Terms
- Defending a Small Claims Court Case
- Visit our Small Claims Court Forum for more help