If I had a nickel . . . .
Okay, so you have run into a brick wall and can’t get justice served, right? If you live in Texas, if justice means recovering money from somebody or company that owes you $10000.00 or less, then you can probably force the issue to a head by doing a little research on the Small Claims court rules. They are located in the Texas Government Code, Chapter 28. The rules of battle are clear and simple enough for most to understand with just a little research.
Here are some general tips:
1. Don’t sue unless you have tried every other possibility.
2. Do your homework. The best way to win is to be right!
3. Call the clerk of the court and ask general questions about procedure. (Is the Judge informal? Does he conduct the hearing just like it says in Chapter 28 of the Government Code or does he allow the formal Rules of Civil procedure to take precedence?)
4. Research your opponent! Will they have an attorney? Will they show up? Can you get them on the telephone? Do they have any money or non-exempt property of value?
5. Do you understand the deadlines and how to appeal if you happen to make a mistake and lose on a technicality?
6. If you get in over your head, are you willing to just give up, or can you afford an attorney?
7. Find all the free resources you can and ask many questions.
Basically, if you have a valid reason to use Small Claims Court and your damages are within the limits allowed, then it can be a very useful way to get justice served. Frankly, most people are not very informed about how the legal process works, but more people are coming forward to help out the consumer that is being “bullied” by either a landlord, or an insurance company that is fully aware of the fact that most people won’t sue because they can’t afford an attorney. In 2007, Texas increased the limits for Small Claims Court and for Justice Courts from $5000.00 to $10000.00. In my opinion, this change was an attempt to lessen the caseload of “minor claims” in the higher courts of record. This is beneficial to people who know how to apply their constitutional right of access to the courts. Normally, it costs less than $100.00 to get an official lawsuit on the books in Small Claims court, and a judgment from a Small Claims court is just as powerful as a judgment from any other court. Depending on the circumstances, if you are forced to file a suit to recovery monetary damages, and you get to the point of having a judgment (my research and experience shows that about 80% of suits settle before a judgment is actually rendered), then the judgment can be used to garnish a bank account, seize non-exempt property, negatively affect credit ratings, and even suspend a driver license in some cases.
If you need to use the Small Claims court, don’t be afraid to try your luck, I assure you it will be a learning experience and you will be better off in the future, win or lose. For free information about how the Small Claims Courts in Texas work, call me or visit my website, I’m sure you can find the information you need to get your dispute resolved for a cost that is much less than what an attorney would charge. Attorneys generally do not have the time to mess with small claims, they have big clients and bigger fish to fry that will make them much more money. Also, be advised that I am not an attorney, and I do not give legal advice, I simply have the tools to point you to the information you need which is available for free in the public domain and on the internet. Additionally, I provide help with finding information for free!