In Florida, if you cannot resolve a dispute for property valued at or money in an amount of $5,000.00 or less, you may look to the Small Claims Court. The rules and procedures in the small claims court are simpler, speedier and more informal than the regular court process and may offer you the best way to recover your property or money. Prior to filing a lawsuit, you should attempt to reach resolution through direct communication with the other party. If that does not provide you a satisfactory resolution, then you need to evaluate whether or not you would be successful if you take the matter to the Small Claims Court. In other words, do you have a valid legal claim and do you have sufficient proof to succeed in court?
Any person over 18 years of age or any business may file a small claims lawsuit. A person under 18 years of age may also file a lawsuit but only if it is filed by his/her parent or guardian. The process is begun by filing a Statement of Claim with the local county court clerk and paying the required fee. There is a standard Statement of Claim form available through the Clerk’s office as well as online. It is important to pick the appropriate county in which you file your lawsuit or else the defendant could request the court move the trial to a more appropriate county. After fling the Statement of Claim, the defendant must be notified of the lawsuit by serving him with the required paperwork either mailed by the Clerk or delivered personally by the Sheriff’s Office. Fees are required for each service and may be recoverable as part of your lawsuit.
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The court will set a pretrial hearing at which time the court will accept the defendant’s defenses, if any. If the defendant has no valid defenses, the judge may enter a verdict at that time. If the defendant appears to have valid legal or factual defenses, the judge will schedule a trial. At trial, each party will present his/her/its evidence, including witnesses which have been subpoenaed to appear by each party. The judge will then make his/her ruling. This ruling is subject to appeal, which is subject to the more stringent and complicated civil procedure rules. If you are successful in getting a judgment against the defendant, you will have to proceed to the collection of your judgment, a topic of a future blog.
Any person over 18 years of age or any business may file a small claims lawsuit. A person under 18 years of age may also file a lawsuit but only if it is filed by his/her parent or guardian.
While Florida allows you to retain and use a lawyer during a small claims court matter, many people do not do so because of the potential expense. If you win, those reasonable attorney’s fees will be recoverable but if you lose, it is money out of your pocket. A good compromise may be to use an attorney on a limited basis – meet with an attorney to determine if you have a valid claim, prepare a demand letter to the defendant prior to filing the lawsuit, learn what your best evidence is and how to present it effectively at trial, anticipate the defendant’s claims and how to counter them, and more.
— John Wright
NOTICE: The article above is not intended to serve as legal advice, and you should not rely on it as such. It is offered only as general information. You should consult with a duly licensed attorney regarding your Florida legal matter, as every situation is unique. Please know that merely reading this article, subscribing to this blog, or otherwise contacting Bogin, Munns & Munns does not establish an attorney-client relationship with our firm. Should you seek legal representation from Bogin, Munns & Munns, any such representation must first be agreed to by the firm and confirmed in a written agreement.