When it comes to personal injury claims, there are a few options for having the case heard and decided. One of the less common, but simple options is small claims court. Small claims court is to assist people in bringing civil claims without the need for attorneys. If you are suing someone for $2,500 or less, small claims court may be the perfect solution. It is meant for ordinary people to handle their cases, have it heard by a judge who makes a decision in the case. Some of the advantages include that you can expect to have your case heard within a few months, and strict rules of evidence don’t apply. It’s important to remember that once your case has been tried in Small Claims Court, you cannot later sue for the part of the claim you relinquished.
The two main types of claims that can be tried in Small Claims Court include claims for debts and claims for damages. You may also sue to get back personal property wrongfully taken from you, or to sue to cancel a contact. You cannot sue for libel, slander or malicious prosecution. In addition, you can’t sue for the ownership of land and you cannot sue the government.
The disadvantages are that if you lose, there is no appeal process. Also, you may not obtain discovery of the other party’s case, and you are limited to $2,000 in damages for property damage claims.
Process and fees
A personal injury claim does not always involve a battle in the court. Most cases are settled out of court through a variety of means. One of these is called Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR), which includes several different types. They are:
- Negotiation—This process involves voluntary participation between the plaintiff and defendant. It does not necessitate a third party to facilitate the process of resolution or impose a decision.
- Mediation—This method involves a mediator to assist in the resolution process. The mediator may offer a proposal after hearing arguments on both sides. However, he cannot impose a resolution.
- Arbitration—Similar to mediation, a third party listens to both parties and acts as a private judge. The arbitrator can impose a resolution if both plaintiff and defendant have agreed to resolve their conflict through this process. Both parties can still appeal the result if they don’t agree with the verdict.
- Conciliation—The goal of this process is to reach a resolution through reconciliation. A conciliator facilitates communication and tries to build a positive relationship through the plaintiff and defendant by clarifying any misconceptions the disputing parties may have.
Under the National Arbitration Forum fee model, there are three main fees that are derived from the size of the arbitration claim. These include:
- Filing Fee—The fee paid by the claimant for filing a claim
- Commencement Fee—The fee assessed when the arbitration is commenced
- Administrative Fee— The fee assessed by the Forum for its casework and the fee for a Document Hearing
Fee arbitration is a hearing conducted by one of more persons not involved in the dispute. They hear the arguments on both sides and decide the outcome of the dispute. A lawyer must send you formal notice of your right to utilize fee arbitration before they can institute legal action to recover a fee.
Types of Claims
If your personal injury case involves severe or permanent injuries, or fatalities, you may want to continue to trial as juries can be extremely sympathetic in awarding large damages when an accident has left the victim disfigured or without their loved one. However, in smaller injury claims of less than $50,000, many plaintiffs’ attorneys will try to settle the case through mediation. In some states, personal injury law offers the option of mandatory arbitration. This is a program in which the court appoints a retired judge or court-approved attorney to decide the case. This can be a much more expedient process and much more cost effective than going to trial.
Arbitration awards can be appealed with a request that the case continue to court. The party who appeals the award following arbitration, and then fails to obtain a better outcome at trial will have to pay the other party’s attorneys fees and costs.