Wouldn’t the world be an easy place to live in if everyone did what they were supposed to do at all times? It might not be very exciting, but it would save the Courts a lot of time.
That isn’t the reality we live in, and that’s why we have such a busy court system. There are countless reasons people may need to sue each other, and in most cases, your first thought is to go to small claims court.
How do you know if that’s the right choice for you or if it’s even an option? Here’s what you need to know.
What Is Small Claims Court?
Small claims court is exactly what its name implies: a court for civil lawsuits that are seeking small amounts of money. Every state has its own limit for how much you can claim in small claims court.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that you can’t file in a small claims court if someone owes you more than the maximum, but the maximum is the most you can recover.
For example, perhaps an uninsured driver damaged your car and owes you $8,000. If you prefer to stick to small claims court and you live in Michigan, you can only sue for $6,000 of the $8,000. If you win, you’re still out of $2,000.
Types of Cases You Can File in Small Claims Court
The dollar limit isn’t the only limitation on small claims court. This court is meant for certain varieties of cases, and there are some that we see more often than others.
One of the most common types of cases that land in small claims court is a contract dispute case. Whether you have a written contract or a verbal contract, a small claims court can hold someone accountable for not following through with their end of the deal.
For example, you may have hired someone to do a job that they didn’t complete, even though you’ve already paid them. Or, you could have completed a job for someone else but they aren’t paying you the money they owe you.
In small claims court, the judge will determine which party is correct and determine how much the other party owes.
Property Damage Cases
There are plenty of ways someone could damage your property, from car accidents to acting recklessly in your home. If this happens and the person refuses to pay, or they promise to pay but they don’t follow through, you can sue them in small claims court.
In these cases, the judge will determine who is liable for the damages and how much the at-fault party should pay.
Personal Injury Cases
Injuries are part of life, but if your injury was someone else’s fault, you shouldn’t be left with the bill. In these cases, you can sue someone to reimburse you for your medical bills.
Keep in mind that you can only get reimbursed for the money you had to pay. The person isn’t liable for bills that your health insurance already paid.
To win these cases, you have to demonstrate your financial losses and also demonstrate why the other person is at fault.
Landlords and tenants have a reputation for getting into legal disputes, and these cases often end up in small claims court.
For example, a landlord could sue their tenant for unpaid rent or for damaging the rental home. A tenant could sue a landlord for withholding their security deposit. Small claims courts see many other tenancy-related cases too, like claims for illegal evictions.
Keep in mind, however, that in most cases, a landlord can’t use small claims court to get an eviction order.
Breach of Warranty Cases
Breach of warranty is a common type of case that not everyone considers.
Let’s say you buy a pan that is labeled as “rust-proof.” You use it and wash it once or twice and it starts to develop rust. You may be able to sue the manufacturer for breaching the warranty by failing to deliver on the promises that sold you on the pan.
Cases You Can’t File in Small Claims Court
Small claims courts can handle a wide variety of cases, but there are certain cases that are specifically prohibited in these courts.
Family Law Cases
This might sound obvious, but any case that relates to family law isn’t a fit for small claims court. This includes divorces as well as custody and guardianship cases. You also can’t modify any of those judgments in small claims court.
For instance, let’s say you get a divorce and later discover that your ex hid $4,000 in a friend’s bank account. Instead of suing your ex in small claims court, you have to go back to family court to modify the divorce.
Name change cases are considered to be family court cases as well.
Claims Requesting Anything Other Than Money
Small claims courts deal with money and money only. They cannot order someone to give you any items or services.
Use this case as an example. Fred loaned Angela his car and Angela never returned it. A small claims court can’t order Angela to give Fred his car. They can only order her to pay Fred the monetary value of the car.
You can still sue someone for an object, but there is a different process that doesn’t go through the small claims court. This is a hard-and-fast rule in Michigan but there are a few rare exceptions in Florida.
Cases Against the Federal Government
If you’re trying to sue the federal government, your case is above the pay grade of your state’s small claims court. You would need to file this case in federal court instead.
This doesn’t just include the federal government as a whole. It also applies to any federal agency like the IRS, and any federal employee who is acting within their duties. You can, however, sue a federal employee for something that isn’t related to their job, like hitting your car with their personal vehicle.
Notice that we mentioned the IRS. That doesn’t mean you can’t bring other tax-related cases in small claims court.
You may be able to sue for matters relating to state or local taxes in small claims court. You can also sue other parties involved with federal taxes, like a tax preparer who failed to file your federal tax return on time. It all depends on the details, and our tax attorneys can help you find out the best way to move forward.
Cases That Are Past the Statute of Limitations
You’ve probably heard of a statute of limitations: a time limit for filing lawsuits. The Courts put this in place so they aren’t bogged down with cases trying to recover an unpaid $200 from 30 years ago.
The statute of limitations for your case will depend on the type of case it is. In most cases, the limit is anywhere from two years to six years.
Regardless of the statute of limitations, it’s always best to file your lawsuit as promptly as possible. As time goes by, witnesses forget facts or they move away, and it gets harder to track down evidence. It’s best to call an attorney as soon as you start considering a lawsuit to find out your path and build your case.
In Michigan, Any Intentional Harm or Damage
In most states, including Florida, you can file cases regardless of whether the problem happened by accident or the person did it on purpose. This isn’t the case in Michigan.
Michigan’s small claims court doesn’t allow cases that involve intentional harm or damage. This includes fraud, libel, slander, assault and battery, and many other cases.
You can still sue someone for those types of cases, but they won’t be in small claims court.
Not only is this an important fact to know, but it demonstrates how crucial it is to hire an attorney in your state. Each state’s small claims court has its own restrictions and rules, and you need to hire an attorney that understands all of them in-depth.
What to Do if You Have a Tax-Related Small Claims Case
No one can accuse the US tax system of being too simple. It’s a complex legal issue, and it’s important to get help from an attorney who knows all the ins and outs.
As you can see above, there are many types of tax cases that could land you in small claims court. If you have a tax-related case, the first step is to hire a specialized tax litigation attorney. We’ll be able to give you guidance and walk you through the process of filing your case in small claims court or whatever the appropriate court may be.