Answer: Yes, small claims court costs money. However, costs of filing in small claims is generally much less than in regular civil court, and there may also be an opportunity to obtain a waiver of the filing fee.
In the article that follows, we’ll talk about the costs of small claims court.
Does Small Claims Court Cost Money? (Explained)
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What is Small Claims Court?
Small claims court is an alternate dispute resolution mechanism that most US courts run in their state courts.
While many individuals and companies suffer losses in the range of $1-$10,000, those dollar amounts do not rise to the level that it is worthwhile to hire a lawyer and go through the whole civil trial process to recover the money, as the lawyer fees themselves could easily cost more than is sought.
Most small claims courts make it easy for participants to file their own claims, and in many small claims courts, the parties are not allowed to be represented by attorneys.
Small claims actions are civil in nature, and not criminal.
What Are The Expected Costs In Small Claims Court?
While the costs can vary from case to case, here are the items that a small claims participant should expect to pay:
- initial filing fee
- costs of service of the initial claim upon the defendant (for the plaintiff)
- witness fees/subpoena fees
- judgment certification (at the end of the case)
There may also be other costs to prepare the case, such as:
- costs of a conference with an attorney in the practice area to prepare for self-representation
- document requests from 3rd parties (medical records, financial records, etc)
- copying fees to make exhibits for the small claims trial
As most small claims courts do not allow for the parties to be represented by attorneys in the case, the costs of attorney fees are usually very limited.
The goal of small claims court is to dramatically reduce the costs of bringing a case to trial.
But the court appearance itself can still cost the parties money in lost wages, child care coverage, court appropriate clothing, parking, and other lost opportunities while not at work.
How Do I Find Out The Costs Of Filing In Small Claims?
The costs of small claim will vary from state to state, and even court to court.
The first step is to decide where the claim should be filed (meaning which state and which court).
Once an individual is set on where to file, he should check the court’s website for information about small claims court.
Most courts have all of the small claims forms posted on their court website, including the initial claim form, instructions, defendant’s answer, and even example judgments.
Filing Fee Waivers
Many courts have programs to assist parties with the costs of court.
Some courts offer a full waiver of the filing fees, or an opportunity to delay paying the filing fees until the end of the case.
These programs are usually based upon income qualifications, and require an application with supporting documentation.
If the costs of small claims is burdensome, check to see if there is an opportunity to file for a filing fee waiver with the specific court where the case is being heard.
What If You Need Help With a Small Claim?
While small claims is there to help people to recover smaller amounts without the assistance of an attorney, a plaintiff does not have to use small claims to get her relief.
Attorneys are often hired to assist with claims in the range of $1,000-$25,000, which may or may not fall into small claims court.
There may even be a way to recover the costs of the attorney fees.
Conferring with an attorney who specializes in civil matters, or even collections matters, could help an individual get some helpful guidance about how to proceed.
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