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Small Claims Court

What Is a Small Claims Court in New York?

By judicial function, the Small Claims Courts in New York hear disputes between people or organizations involving monetary compensation. While the monetary limit is not homogenous across the state, the benchmark is $10,000 in New York City, $5,000 for the Small Claims Division of the City Courts, and $3,000 in Town and Village Courts. Hence, petitioners must contact the clerk of the relevant court to inquire about the maximum claim amount.

In small claims cases, the plaintiff must be able to convince the Small Claims Court by providing undeniable evidence of damage within the court’s jurisdiction. Entities in the case may proceed without the aid of attorneys as both parties can converse directly with the judges, present evidence, and await verdicts. The major advantage of Small Claims Court is the easier and faster legal route towards settling a dispute compared to the rigors and costly procedures in a full trial proceeding. Examples of cases New York Small Claims Courts hear are;

  • Landlord and tenant disputes
  • Contract breaches
  • Personal injury claims (dog bites)
  • False arrest claims
  • Libel cases
  • Property damage claims
  • Debt collections

Claims outside the jurisdiction of Small Claims Court are:

  • Personal injury claims involving severe injuries or damages
  • Family legal disputes such as divorce and child support
  • Bankruptcy

How do New York Small Claims Court Work?

New York Small Claims Courts resolve civil cases involving money claims quickly and more economically. Parties that wish to file small claims cases must be 18 years and above. However, guardians or legal representatives may file on behalf of younger plaintiffs. Usually, a small claim case involves a claimant and the defendant. The claimant is the suing party, while the defendant is the individual being sued.

In some cases, the complainant may even sue more than one defendant. Nevertheless, plaintiffs that want to initiate a small claims case must have the grounds to sue. For example, a person whose motorcycle was involved in a road accident while driving cannot sue for damages caused to the bike if such a person is not the registered owner of the bike. Hence, only the registered owner has the right to file for claims at the Small Claims Courts.

Getting sued in a Small Claims Court in New York is not restricted to people alone; associations or corporations may also answer a lawsuit. However, while it is possible to sue associations or organizations, these institutions cannot charge any entity to court by law. The only exception to this law is a consumer transaction or a commercial claim. Commercial claims are for defendants representing businesses, while consumer transactions are for accused persons with goods or services meant for personal use.

At the Small Claims Court proceedings, the judge examines the evidence by the plaintiff or the defendant. If the complainant cannot access some files from the accused, which may be admissible as evidence, the court may issue a subpoena to the defendant to provide the records. Either party in the suit may call on witnesses to support the claim or to prove the case. In situations where crucial witnesses may be reluctant to testify in court, the judge may also issue a subpoena to compel such witnesses to appear in court.

After the trial, both the petitioner and the accused person receives the Notice of Judgement by mail which contains the compensation the losing party must pay and how the plaintiff may retrieve the money. However, the judgment remains valid for 20 years for money, and a 9% interest applies every year. In addition, the court only sustains verdicts relating to real estate for ten years.

How to Take Someone To Small Claims Court in New York

A party that wants to sue another in a small claims case may file the legal action in the county where either entity lives. In scenarios where both complainant and defendant are not residing within a city, the claimant may file the case in the county where either party has a business or employment. If any of these criteria are not met, the Small Claims Court in New York may not accept such a claim. Suitors may make use of the New York court directory to locate courthouses.

Parties who want to file for claims must download, complete, and submit the Statement of Claim form at the Clerk’s Office in person or through a legal representative. In addition, the claimant must express the reasons for the legal complaint with the details of the amount involved and the defendant’s address. The Court Clerk charges a filing fee of $10 for claims not exceeding $1,000 and $20 for claims above $1,000. Payment is strictly by cash, bank cheque, or money order payable to the relevant county’s Clerk of the Civil Court.

As soon as the claimant files the claim, the sued party gets a notification by mail. The Notice of Claims consists of the complainant’s claim amount and brief statement. The post office may only declare the notice undeliverable after 21 days, and this means that the accused did not receive the petition. Hence, the Court Clerk may as well arrange a method of personal delivery to the defendant.

The New York Small Claims Court has four months to serve the defendant with the notice of claim before dismissal. And in some situations, the defendant may file a counterclaim against the plaintiff. Nevertheless, accused entities must file a counterclaim within five days after receiving the notice of claim from the court. After acknowledgment by the defendant, the Court Clerk schedules a trial date, which is usually at 6:30 pm. However, there are exceptions for disabled people or those persons who work during the evening. Before the court date, litigants must submit proof of identity, such as government-issued IDs showing birth dates.

How Much Can You Sue For in New York Small Claims Court?

The Small Claims Courts are informal courts where parties have the right to sue for money up to $10,000.00. However, this limit does not apply to all the counties in the state. Therefore, petitioners may have to contact the Court Clerks in the counties of filing to make inquiries. However, it is impossible to compel an individual or business in a Small Claims Court to fix a damaged item or to perform the activities outlined in an advertisement. Therefore, the lawsuit may only be for money.

How to Defend Yourself in New York Small Claims Court

Since a defendant receives a copy of the petition after the claimant files the case in court, the party must put a couple of things in place to win the case. The first step is to collate all relevant evidence and documents supporting the claim or help prove the facts. These files may include written contracts, letters, emails, original bills or invoices, photographs, canceled checks, written agreements, an estimate of the cost of the services or repairs, and receipts for purchasing an item or paying a debt.

Also, testimony is a form of evidence. Hence, parties who witnessed the transaction or someone who has particular knowledge and experience of the costs associated with the service or repairs in question may serve as a witness in court.

Defendants may request a subpoena or obtain a subpoena duces tecum from a legal stationery store 48 hours before the trial date if a witness is unwilling to appear in court. As a legal document, a subpoena commands the individual named in it to appear before the court, while a subpoena duces tecum requires a person to produce a bill, receipt, or a written document. Unless waived, the defendant is responsible for paying the sum of $15.00 as the witness fee and travel expense if the need arises.

How Long Do You Have to Take Someone to Small Claims Court in New York?

As a result of the Statute of Limitations, small claims suits in New York have a timeframe that a plaintiff may file a petition. Usually, the limitation period begins to run from the moment the incident occurred. For example, for injuries related to car accidents, the statute of limitation begins to run on the accident date and ends three years later. Hence, plaintiffs must be aware of the valid filing period. However, the deadline varies depending on the claim in the lawsuit. There are different claims filed in a Small Claims Court, including contracts, personal injuries, and property damages. The time limits for filing these cases are;

  • Disputes pertaining to contracts are limited to six years.
  • A personal injury claim or property damage claim has a three-year limit.
  • Workers’ compensation claims in New York must be filed within two years.
  • In medical malpractice cases, such claims must be brought to the Small Claims Court within two years and six months of the time the negligent act occurred.
  • In the case of an oral or written contract, the claim must be filed within six years.

Besides the type of claim, there are certain time limitations for lawsuits against the state, state agencies, and towns. To begin with, an injured party must report to the state, city, or agency within 90 days of the event. In addition, petitioners must file the lawsuit within 30 days after reporting. By doing this, the state, town, or agency has an opportunity to settle the claim. Finally, a lawsuit against the state, a government agency, or the town must be filed within 90 days to one year.

What Happens if You Don’t Show up for Small Claims Court in New York?

Having been correctly notified, if the defendant does not appear in court for the trial, the trial proceeds without the presence of the accused party. Therefore by default, the claimant wins the case. However, defendants in default judgment may request that the Clerk’s Office re-opens the case by presenting a good reason for the non-appearance. The Small Claims Court may accept or reject the excuse. Nevertheless, valid reasons to vacate a default judgment include:

  • Lack of personal jurisdiction (when the defendant did not receive a copy of the claim)
  • Ill health
  • The accused was out of town
  • The accused is serving a jail term
  • Transportation problems
  • Inability to take time off work

The defendant may have to inquire from the Court Clerk on how to go about filing to cancel the judgment. However, accused parties must file the motion within five years after the entry of the decision. If the court accepts the motion, the Clerk may disclose a new date to the plaintiff and the defendant. If not, a defendant may have no further options except to file a Notice of Appeal. The deadline to file an appeal is 35 days after the accused entity receives a copy of the judgment. A court of higher jurisdiction attends to appeal from the Small Claims Court.

What are Small Claims Court Records in New York?

A New York Small Claims Court record is a file in which the Clerk of Court writes information on a small claims case proceedings. According to the Freedom of Information Law, Small Claims Court records are public information. The general public has the right to access and copy the court records, except stated otherwise. However, credit reporting agencies often request records pertaining to residents’ financial information from state and county courts to reflect the details on credit reports. Hence the judgment, settlement plan, or case dismissal may appear on the credit report of persons in the case.

Where can I find New York Small Claims Court Records?

In New York, requesters may find records of small claims cases at the Court Clerk’s office in the courthouse where the case was filed and heard. Court clerks are responsible for recording and managing all New York court records which typically contain details of every court proceeding. Therefore, interested parties may send queries for records directly to the Clerk of Court in the county where the case was heard. Also, a requestor may access old and new case files by signing up on the judiciary’s eCourt platform. On the other hand, interested persons may obtain court records via third-party websites. These websites provide access to documents by requesting basic information such as the parties involved, city, and county where the case was filed.

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