MIAMI – "I'll see you in court!"
You may not want to say it, but, circumstances may lead you there. But small claims court cases can be a big undertaking, especially if you're not prepared.
The "Leave it to Layron" team wants to make sure you do it right, and WIN your case, should you end up before a judge.
DO YOUR RESEARCH!
"By doing your research, you feel more prepared because you know exactly what you need to say to the judge to prove each and every element of your claim. 'I know what I have to say in order to prevail on this,'" said Holly Beth Billington.
Billington is Miami Dade County's consumer advocate and supervises the county's Consumer Protection Division's Mediation Center.
Click here to read collecting on a judgment guide.
Something as simple as a properly researched name could make or break your case.
"If you're filing an action against a business, you have to have the complete legal entity name if you ever want to collect," Billington said. "In order to collect, you have to make sure that judgment was issued against the correct legal entity."
Billington said that research will also help you determine if your claim is small. Small claims are for damages up to $5,000. Billington said many times, your claim could be greater than that.
"So, maybe you really should get an attorney, go to county or circuit court," she said. "The more you do to prepare, the better chance you have of convincing the judge that, yes, [you're] right."
Click here to view collecting on a judgment without an attorney guide.
COMPILE YOUR EVIDENCE
"There are a lot of times when we may know that we were wronged, somehow, but you have to be able to articulate that," Billington said.
That's where your evidence comes in.
Each and every receipt documenting what you've expended; copies of documents that you’ve signed; records showing who those documents were provided to; contracts; agreements; photos; videos -- all of it could be crucial to you proving your case and winning your judgment.
Click here to read small claims court rules and forms.
WEIGH THE COSTS
Is filing a small claims case worth it? Billington said it's a question many people should ask, but don't.
"Filing fees can go up to $300," she said. "You may have to engage the service of a private process server, which can be $50 or $200."
Your small claim could cost you more to pursue than you're owed. And, Billington warned, winning your case, isn't the same thing as collecting your damages.
The Florida Department of State's Division of Corporations has a judgment lien database that you can search for free.
Billington said the county recorder also keeps a record of judgments. If someone has a series of outstanding and unsatisfied judgments, the likelihood of you recouping your damages is low.
Miami-Dade hosts small claims court presentations throughout the year. The sessions are offered in different parts of the county. It's free, and attendees learn how to file a claim.
Click here to view small claims court presentation.
"We literally go through the process, from start to finish," Billington said.
The sessions are open to the public and reservations are not required.
Below is information about upcoming presentations
When: Oct. 4
Where: South Dade Government Center
10710 SW 211th Street Room 104
Miami, FL 33189
When: Dec. 6
Where: Sherbondy Village Auditorium
215 Perviz Avenue
Opa-Locka, FL 33054
Billington said community groups and organizations can also contact the Mediation Center to request a presentation by calling the center at 786-469-2333.
Here are a few more helpful links:
Miami-Dade County Clerk of Courts Small Claims Court (forms are on the left)
Standard jury instructions (civil cases)
Florida Bar Consumer Information (scroll down to the middle of the page. There are a lot of free online brochures on variety of issues, including hiring an attorney and clients' rights.)