Three Alternatives To Filing A Small Claims Case

Insurance Blog

Small claims court can be a great way to settle a minor dispute over money, a minor personal injury or an accident. In many cases, a small claims case can be a good way to collect damages when another person is negligent and causes damage to your vehicle or your property.

But going to small claims court, while less expensive than filing a formal civil lawsuit, still requires a great deal of time and energy to be successful. It should be something you consider as a last resort, after you try:

1. Send a letter.

Sometimes, these are known as "demand letters," and you may or may not decide to involve an attorney in preparing and sending one. A demand letter should spell out what happened in the incident, why you are entitled to compensation from another person, and exactly what you want to receive.

In most cases, it's best to begin with a letter that you write yourself, as it can be very successful in resolving minor disputes. You can hire a lawyer later if the case escalates.

Don't forget to:

  • Be professional. Don't use questionable language or get overly emotional.
  • Make it clear what you want. Spell out your request for compensation.
  • Detail your next step. If you plan to go to small claims court if you don't get a suitable response, say that.

2. Try mediation.

Mediation is a process of resolving disputes outside the courtroom, and many communities offer certified mediation experts. A mediator will listen to both sides of the story and collect evidence, then work to find a compromise between two parties with a dispute.

Mediation can be especially helpful if you have an issue with a neighbor, family member or business partner. These are people whom you will want to have some sort of cordial relationship with in the future, so working together on a compromise will often work out better than court.

You do need the cooperation of the other person to engage in mediation. If the other person or business ignores your request or refuses to participate, you won't be able to enter mediation and must pursue your case through small claims court.

3. Hire an attorney.

It may be that getting an attorney involved will demonstrate to the other party that you're serious about settling the dispute. An attorney can send a letter that carries more weight than your personal demand letter, for example.

If your case does escalate to small claims court, your attorney can help you prepare. In some states, he or she can even attend court with you. However, you'll want to weigh the expense of a lawyer with the money you are likely to recoup from the case.

Remember that you may have a limited amount of time to file a small claims case, so don't let your efforts drag on for too long. Each state has a different statute of limitation on the types of cases normally tried in small claims court. Research your state's laws or consult your lawyer for more information.


20 October 2014