Small Claims Court: Fast and Economical

Small Claims Court: Fast and Economical

Every Idaho county has a small claims court.  For any dispute over money or property where less than five thousand dollars ($5,000) is in issue, small claims courts provide a rapid and very economical way of getting the case resolved.

Small claims cases are resolved much faster than cases filed in the regular court system.  You can serve the defendant via registered mail, and the case is assigned for a trial very quickly, as opposed to non-small claims cases where many months or even years can go by before trial.  Small claims trials proceed informally in front of a magistrate judge, and the rules of evidence are greatly relaxed.

Cases in small claims court are far more economical, because neither side can be represented by an attorney.   If a party is a corporation or LLC, an officer or member of the company may appear to represent it, but an attorney may not. There are no formal pretrial procedures like depositions or document requests:  The parties basically walk into the courtroom and present their cases.  The judge will in almost all cases give a decision at the end of the informal trial.  The judge’s decision will be a judgment that can be enforced if the losing party does not pay or comply, for example where property must be returned.

Organization is the key to success in small claims court.  Small claims parties should be prepared with clear copies of well organized documents such as letters, receipts, and photographs. There should be a copy to present to the judge, and a copy for the other party.  The best practice is to organize documents chronologically in a binder or folder with clearly labeled tabs or sections.  Photographs can be marked with text noting what the photograph depicts.

While attorneys cannot present a case for a client in small claims court, parties are free to consult with attorneys to plan their case strategy and to understand the legal principles that the judge may consider.   Although the cases are smaller, judges must apply the same legal principles that they employ in larger cases.

If a party is disgruntled with a small claims judgment, the case can be appealed.  If appealed, it will be set for a “trial de novo” in front of a different judge.  The case is tried completely over again, as if the first trial had not occurred.  Again, the procedures are informal, and lawyers cannot present the case.