Small claims lawsuits offer an inexpensive, speedy and relatively informal option for resolving many financial disputes where the disputed amount is up to $3,500.
by Ed van Vianen
People sometimes find themselves in disputes over a “small” contractual debt or a “minor” property damage or personal injury claim. Where the amount of the claim is $3,500 or less, the small claims division of a justice court precinct is an excellent forum in which to resolve the claim.
Procedures. Every Arizona justice court precinct has a small claims division. Both parties in a small claims case may obtain instructions and forms from the court, or in Pinal County visit the “Small Claims Cases” page at www.pinalcountyaz.gov/Judicial (click Justice Courts, Small Claims Cases).
The procedures are simplified and streamlined so parties can file, prosecute and defend their cases without the assistance of an attorney. Indeed, attorneys cannot appear or take part in a small claims case unless both parties agree to it in writing. (Attorneys may represent themselves, however.)
A justice of the peace or a hearing officer hears the case. There is no right to a jury trial, and there is no right to appeal. The decision of the Justice of the Peace or hearing officer is final and binding on both parties.
Plaintiff considerations. When compared to other forms of dispute resolution, a small claims lawsuit is cheap, quick and simple.
However, before heading to small claims court, the plaintiff should take into account a variety of considerations, including:
- Have you reviewed the procedural rules? Are you comfortable that you can abide by those rules in presenting your case?
- Are you so emotionally vested in your claim that you are unable to pursue it by yourself and may need the help of an attorney?
- Can you support your claim with strong evidence, including reliable documents and/or credible witness testimony, or is your evidence too sparse or weak to win your case?
- If the justice of the peace or hearing officer decides against you, can you live with that final result?
Under the right circumstances, small claims lawsuits allow parties to resolve issues over a variety of financial claims and can be an ideal way for parties to get relief and attain closure of their civil disputes.
Ed van Vianen is an attorney at Fitzgibbons Law in Casa Grande. For over 20 years, he has represented clients in civil litigation, real estate disputes, bankruptcy and employment issues.