Have a small claims trial coming up real fast? Sitting in court right now, waiting for the judge to call your case? Want some last minute tips that will help anyone out? Here you go.
- If You Get Surprised by New Evidence, Ask for a Continuance on That Basis.
“Trial by Surprise” does comply with the right to Due Process and Fundamental Fairness as required by the 14th Amendment to the United States’ Constitution. You can ask for time to prepare for new evidence by arguing that the right to Due Process requires it. Make sure you mention that you made reasonable efforts to get all the evidence in advance of trial.
2. Take the Pre Trial Mediation Seriously, Try to Settle the Case.
No one can predict what is going to happen in a small claims court trial. Often, there is no winner, everyone ends up unhappy. This uncertainty can be avoided by settling the case prior to trial.
In almost all small claims courts in populated areas, the court has some sort of mediation requirement prior to trial. Often, there is a required mediation session right before the trial, with the help of a court appointed mediator. When you settle a case in mediation, the court can approve the agreement, and set terms of payment, payment schedules, and other points of agreement between the parties. When a case is settled in mediation, there is no judgement, and no requirement that someone admit liability or wrongdoing.
3. Tell the Judge What You Want in Detail.
Small claims trials are short, and there is limited court time and resources available for those cases. To give your case the best shot at success in trial, tell the judge exactly what you want him/her to do. Give the judge a road map to ruling in your favor, make it easy for them.
For example, you might case for an award of $500 this way:
“Your honor, I ask that you find the defendant is liable for the accident, and that the Court award me $500 total, based upon the evidence which shows the repair cost of the damage is $400 in parts, and $100 in labor. Thank you.”
4. Address Both Liability and Damages in Your Argument.
Regardless of whether you are the plaintiff or the defendant in a small claims case, there are always 2 parts to each case: 1) liability and 2) damages. You should address both in a final argument.
“Liability” refers to the reason a defendant should have to pay. For example, a defendant who causes a car crash by running a red light has broken the law and is therefore liable for damages they case.
“Damages” refers to the amount of money a liable defendant must pay. For example a defendant who runs a red light and causes a crash may be responsible to pay the repair costs, or “damages”, for the damaged property.
OK – there you go. Hope this helps.