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Does Small Claims Court Solve the Problems in People Proceeding Pro se?

October 16, 2013

Small Claim Courts were invented in Maine, and most every other state, to allow ordinary citizens to present their own disputes in a simple way without attorneys. Some people say that the difficulty of going to court alone without a lawyer, so called “pro se,” is solved by Small Claims Court. But it is not so. Here are the facts:

There is a long list of types of cases that you cannot go to Small Claims court about. For example,

• Car accidents;

• Injuries on somebody’s property like a landlord’s defective rental;

• Any other kind of accident where you are injured;

• Assault and battery;

• Fraud;

• Trespass;

• Slander;

• Defective products that cause injuries (example: brakes fail on the car you just bought);

• Unfair firing from your job;

• Discrimination;

• Theft of your property.

There also are other severe limitations in small claims court. Consider:

• $8,000 is the upper limit of what you can sue for even in cases that can go to small claims;

• Claims against and Towns or cities are not allowed;

• When you get to court, the judge will make you try mediation first before you can get a hearing, and when mediation doesn’t work, you will have to come back another day, and miss another day of work and have to get child care again;

• If you win some money, the judge will do nothing to help you actually collect it. You will have to file another case to do that, called a “disclosure,” where you make the person or business owing you the money come again to court so you can find out if he has the money to pay. That begins another process where the judge sends you in the hall to talk about it, and return on another day to ask your questions of the one who lost the case to you.  Another day of missed work and child care expenses;

If you win, the other party can appeal and make you go through a superior court jury trial!

If you choose to go to small claims court, you give up your right to a jury trial if you lose.

Anyone who says that this is “equal justice under law” is pulling your leg. Wouldn’t you really rather have a lawyer who knows the right court to go to where you can get a fair shot at getting the damages that you are owed? Of course.  Anybody with half a brain would prefer that!

What the Small Claims Court has to offer is a court for poor while people with money who have important disputes get  to go to the court for the rich.

Not that the rich completely avoid Small Claims Court. They send their lawyers there to collect overdue bills against the poor. The court that was supposed to be for the ordinary citizen to be able to go to  without the need  for an attorney has become a collection tool for collection lawyers who work for collection companies.


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