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Washington boasts several layers of court systems that are available to citizens when issues of varying degree or complexity arise. Television court dramas typically delve into the inner workings of the superior court, court of appeals, or supreme court, and the small claim’s court is typically left for daytime television. Between Judge Judy and the People’s Court, daytime television does a fairly decent job of representing the truth behind the small claim’s court.
So, why choose small claim’s court?
The court of limited jurisdiction is a fantastic option for those with civil claims with limited monetary damages. Maybe your neighbor backed into your car and refused to pay for the damages. Perhaps his dog bit your dog requiring a few visits to the vet. It could be as simple as a landlord looking for payment from a tenant. Washington residents can sue and be sued in Small Claim’s Court for up to $10,000 and businesses can only bring small claim’s suits for up to $5,000. When the damages are this limited, there are good reasons to choose small claim’s court.
There are No Attorneys. You save money on attorney’s fees whether you’re the plaintiff or the defendant. As a result, the entire process is streamlined to allow pro se (unrepresented) parties to handle the litigation by themselves.
Small Claim’s Court is Quick. After some brief, initial procedural hurdles, you will have a full hearing in front of a judge in a full-blown court room. In a matter of a single hearing, your case can be heard in front of a judge who will make the final decision on the merits of the case. This is obviously quite different than other court rooms, where litigation takes several months and – on occasion – can drag on for years depending on the complexity of the case and the damages involved.
There’s Little Monetary Barrier to Entry. Lawsuits in superior court can be very expensive. A full trial in front of a jury for even a simple rear-end collision can cost thousands of dollars. Even the filing fee for a lawsuit in the superior court is expensive, ringing in at well over $200.00. Small Claim’s Court currently requires only a $50.00 filing fee, meaning that even small cases can have their time in court.
Starting the Case is Simple. Walk into the small claim’s court at your local district court, and any court clerk can provide you with a small claim’s court packet. You can even start the process by downloading documents off of the court’s website in King County. Filling out the paperwork is quick and providing the Notice of Small Claim to the clerk is an easy and efficient way to begin a lawsuit.
Free Mediation is Facilitated. The court system works intricately in King County with the Dispute Resolution Center to offer professional mediation services at no additional cost. While in court, the judge will typically ask if either party is interested in attempting mediation where you will be brought out with professional negotiators to try and work out a fair agreement without the need for judicial intervention.
There’s Little Intimidation. Unlike a jury trial, a short hearing in front of a judge is quite painless. Trial in small claim’s court is informal, so while it’s certain you will be nervous, the other party is likely just as nervous, and the judge is always ready to help when needed.
There’s Some Finality. Small claim’s court judgments can be recorded as a civil judgment with the superior court, which with proper planning can place a lien against all real property in the debtor’s name. However, just like with other court scenarios, appeals are possible depending on the amount of money claimed in the lawsuit.
Small claim’s court is often a great pathway for claims that may be difficult to bring in superior court due to limited damages, potentially expensive litigation costs, or many other reasons. A qualified attorney can provide advice regarding the best place to file your lawsuit. At Magnuson Lowell, PS, our experienced litigators pride themselves on providing honest and informed recommendations to clients.
Call today for a free consultation!