Remember that small claims court is less formal than higher courts, and its judges are ready and eager to hear coherent personal testimonies without official presentations. Every small claims court has a statute of limitations that governs how long you have after an occurrence to submit a claim. These periods vary greatly from state to state, but in most cases you can file within a year of the incident that caused your claim.
In some states, you have only part of a year to file if you suffer from a continuous condition, such as cancer. In others, you have three years from the date your cause of action accrued - which for most claims is when you were injured. If you don't file suit within the allotted time, your claim expires.
These periods are mandatory and cannot be extended. However, if you fail to pursue your claim in a timely manner, the defendant or defendants you sued will be granted summary judgment by the judge. This means they will not have to go through with their day in court because no evidence supports your claim.
Statutes of limitations are vital to our system of justice. They ensure that people do not sit on their rights indefinitely. Were it not for these limits, then victims would be forced to sue their abusers after they stopped seeing them on a regular basis or wait decades until they develop medical conditions that may have been prevented had they been treated sooner.
Small claims court is a basic, quick, and informal judicial process in which the plaintiff (the person suing) seeks a $6,000 or less monetary award. Parties in small claims disputes frequently represent themselves, although they may also retain the services of an attorney. A small claims court is a District Court session. All states have some form of small claims court. In Maine, these courts are located in eight districts. Each district has two small claims courts that meet on different days of the week. The parties choose which court to appear before. There is no jury trial in small claims court.
In order to file a claim in small claims court, you must serve the defendant (the person against whom you are filing the claim) with a written document called a "summons." You can do this by handing a copy of the summons to your defendant personally or having it mailed to the defendant's address on record with the court. If you fail to serve the defendant within six months of the incident that is the basis for your claim, the small claims court will dismiss the case without prejudice. However, if you want the judge to waive this requirement on a case-by-case basis, you can ask the judge to extend the time period. The defendant has until 30 days after service to respond to your claim.
When you come into small claims court, provide proof of identity and residence status.
The Small Claims Court is a branch of the District Court that deals with disputes between two or more parties. These matters are decided informally by a judge. Your case is heard in Small Claims Court if and only if the following conditions are met:
Your claim does not exceed $10,000.
You have filed a complaint with the court. A "complaint" is an written statement describing your claim. The complaint must be filed no later than six months after the incident causing you damage has occurred.
You have given the defendant notice of your intent to file a complaint. This notice must be made in writing and sent via first-class mail to the person against whom you have a claim. It must state that you intend to file a claim against this person and should include his or her address. If you do not give notice, then you can still file a claim but the court may deny you relief if there is a lack of evidence that the defendant had actual notice of your claim.
The defendant files an answer with the court within 20 days of receiving this notice. An "answer" is a document containing statements of facts and arguments that asserts new matters or defenses to the claims contained in the complaint. At a minimum, the defendant must admit or deny each allegation contained in the complaint.