- Can you make a claim?
The claimant must be 18 years old or older to file a claim, anyone under 18 must get their parent or guardian to sue on their behalf. A claim of up to $10,000 can be made. It is also important to note that you should make sure that you are able to sue, for example, in a claim to recover money for a damaged vehicle, you must be the named owner of that vehicle. The procedure can be found under the Civil Court Act, section 1803.
The claimant must also establish which jurisdiction to sue the other party. This can be where either party resides or where either party is employed or has the business address.
- Mediation: an alternative resolution
Before claiming, it is important to consider mediation which is a more cost-effective way to resolve a dispute. You can save a large amount of legal fees on attorneys and court costs by using mediation service to settle the dispute.
- Statement of claim
After establishing whether a claim can be made and where to sue the other party, the claimant must then visit the Small Claims Court Clerk’s office to fill out a statement of claim. The relevant office the claimant should visit can be found here.
The statement of claim requires the claimant to explain the reason for filing the claim, the amount claimed, and the name and address of the individual or business being sued.
If the claimant is unsure of the name or address, the claimant is able to go to the Count Clerk’s office to look up the certificate of doing business which should be photocopied and brought to the court.
The statement of claim form can be found here.
An alternative to visiting the Small Claims Court Clerk’s office is to file this electronically. The court system does not facilitate electronic filing currently, but this can be done using private vendors. When using private vendors, the claimant must ensure to meet their requirements which can be found on the relevant vendors’ website. The current vendors are Intesys TurboCourt® and nCourt.
For example, if we use TurboCourt as a vendor and we are making a claim in Kings (Brooklyn) for a small claim as an individual, this is how it would look:
The website will then prompt you to create an account and then guide you through the filing process.
- Claim filing fees
The fee for filing a claim depends on how much you are claiming. If you claim any amount up to and including $1,000, the filing fee is $15. If the claimed amount is between $1,000 and $10,000, the fee for filing a claim is $20. This can be paid by either cash, check, money order or bank check made to “Clerk of the Civil Court”.
After the statement of claim and fee is submitted, the clerk will give you a date for the hearing.
- Notifying the other party
The Small Claims Court will notify the defendant by serving them a notice of the claim. This notice will inform the other party of the court hearing as well as a brief statement of the claim. This is the point where the defendant can choose to file a counterclaim.
The time frame of serving the notice of claim is 4 months after the claimant files the initial claim, and failure to do this within the time frame will mean that the case will be dismissed.
- Preparing for court
The final step before the actual hearing is preparing for the hearing. The claimant must gather all of the relevant evidence to support their case. This includes any photographic evidence, written agreements, bills, invoices, correspondence, receipts etc. The claimant should bring anything which is relevant or could support their case. It is useful to have a few copies of these documents for the judge and opposing party, along with the original.
The claimant may also wish to subpoena any evidence to be produced at the hearing date.
The claimant may also wish to have additional witnesses to testify at the hearing, or a testimony from an expert or someone who has special knowledge relating to the subject of the case.
Do I need an attorney?
Although a Small Claims Court is designed to allow parties to represent themselves without the need of an attorney, a claimant may wish to have one present.
- The decision
Once the judge has heard both sides and seen both the claimant’s and defendant’s evidence, they will usually “reserve decision” which means that they need time to evaluate the evidence before giving a final decision.
If the claimant is unhappy with the decision, they are able to appeal the decision of the court. It is, however, difficult to overturn the initial decision as the appellate court does not rehear the facts, but reviews the error of the lower court. In order to appeal, a Notice of Appeal must be filed within 30 days of the decision.
- Enforcing the judgement
If the claimant is happy with the decision, the next step is to enforce the decision. A Notice of Judgement will be sent to the claimant which will indicate how much is to be awarded and ways to collect it.
The money can be collected directly from the defendant by contacting them as the court can’t collect it for the claimant. This does mean that there is no guarantee that the defendant will pay this voluntarily.
If the defendant does not comply, the claimant can take further legal action to obtain the money as the Small Claims Court judgement remains valid for 20 days after the judgement.