People have minor disputes every day. They range from a mechanic not getting paid for car repairs he made, to a landlord refusing to return a tenant's security deposit. Often, these disputes don't involve enough money to justify hiring an attorney. The fees you may have to pay an attorney may be close to or even more than the amount you're owed.
This is where a small claims court can help. In Wyoming, the small claims court settles legal disputes that involve small amounts of money. This type of court is designed to be easy to use, inexpensive, fast and a lot less formal than the other courts in the state.
Individuals or Businesses May Sue
Individuals, businesses and corporations can file suits and be sued in the small claims courts in Wyoming. 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. If you're under 18 years old, your parent or legal guardian has to file the lawsuit for you (or "on your behalf").
You file a small claims case with the clerk of the appropriate circuit court. One or more of the 23 counties in Wyoming is served by a circuit court.
In Wyoming, the most you can recover in small claims court is $5,000. If your claim is a little over $5,000, 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 $5,000, you may want to talk to attorney to see what your chances are of recovering the full amount in a court other than the small claims court.
Cases Suitable for Small Claims Court
Many different kinds of cases go to small claims court. Some of the most common are cases involve:
- Goods or services sold but not paid for
- Unpaid or past due money loans
- Auto negligence and accidents
- Security deposit refunds
- Unpaid rent
- Car repair disputes
- Property damage
- Breach of contract, such as when a customer won't pay you for roof repairs she hired you to make
There are several things you can't sue for in small claims court, including divorce and child custody, tenant eviction and name changes.
Statute of Limitations
The statute of limitations 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 injuries, to file a "personal injury" lawsuit in Wyoming. 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 a "Small Claims Affidavit" and a "Summons." Basically, the Small Claims Affidavit tells the court and the defendant why you're filing suit and what your damages are, that is, how much money you want the defendant to pay you. The Summons tells the defendant when and where he has to appear for trial. The circuit court clerk can give you a copy of these forms, or you can get copies online. You have to pay a $10 filing fee and other fees when you give them to the clerk. The fees can change, so make sure you check with the clerk for the current fee amount.
In Wyoming, you can hire an attorney to represent you in the small claims court. So can the defendant. If, however, only one party hires an attorney, the other party may ask the court for a continuance, that is, to postpone the trial to another date, to give him time to hire an attorney as well. If you win, the judge may or may not require the other party to pay your attorney's fees, so be prepared to pay those costs out-of-pocket.
The court clerk may help you complete the Small Claims 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 court clerk will fill out the trial dates on the Summons, and give you a copy of both the Small Claims Affidavit and Summons. You're responsible for making sure that copies of both forms are delivered to (or "served on") the defendant. The court clerk can tell you about how to have them served, and the fees involved, but service usually is made by a sheriff.
After the defendant is served with the Small Claims Affidavit, he can either pay you, or he can challenge you lawsuit by showing up for trial. The trial will be held before a judge. Both you and the defendant will be sworn in, along with any witnesses. 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.
In some Wyoming small claim courts, either you or the defendant may request a jury trial. In other courts, there are no jury trials and every small claims suit will be decided by a judge. If you're interested in having a jury trial, ask the clerk of the court where you're filing suit if you can ask for a jury trial.
The judgment is the decision given by the judge. After hearing both parties' arguments, the judge may make an immediate decision, or she 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, the judgment will state how much the defendant must pay you. Either of you may appeal the judgment of the small claims court.
Small Claims Court Procedural Rules
The Wyoming Court Rules Governing Small Claims Cases and the Rules of Procedure for Small Claims can explain more about how the small claims process works.
Questions for Your Attorney
- I have a claim against a general contractor for $5,500. How much will you charge me to file suit against him outside of small claims court? How much will you charge to file in small claims court?
- I was injured in a car accident that was caused by a state employee who was driving a state-owned truck. The State of Wyoming refuses to pay my medical bills. Can I sue the State of Wyoming 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 Wyoming Small Claims Worksheet
- Next in the Small Claims series: Filing a Small Claims Suit in Wyoming
- Success In Small Claims Court
- Small Claims Court Terms
- Defending a Small Claims Court Case
- Visit our Small Claims Court Forum for more help