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Learn what to expect at a small claims trial

Get information regarding what may happen at court during your small claims trial.

Leading up to the trial

Unless the plaintiff and defendant settle the case before the trial date, both sides must appear in court on the date the case is scheduled for trial.

Mediation is available in many courts on the date of trial. When the case is called, if mediation is available you will be asked if you would like to mediate your claim.

If you cannot come to court on the trial date, you should call or write the person on the opposing side and ask him or her to agree to postpone ("continue") the case. Continuances should only be for good reason, such as illness, an emergency, or the unavailability of a witness. If both sides agree, or if the opposing side does not agree, or if you are unable to reach the person on the opposing side, you must write the Clerk-Magistrate of the court to ask that the court give you a continuance. Do not wait until the last minute. If the other side makes a reasonable request for a continuance, it may save you some inconvenience if you agree to the request.

If the plaintiff does not appear for trial, and the defendant does appear, the court will enter a judgment for the defendant. If both the plaintiff and the defendant do not appear for trial, the claim will be dismissed. If the defendant does not appear for trial, and the plaintiff does appear, the court will likely enter a default judgment and order the defendant to pay the amount claimed. The magistrate may ask the plaintiff to present some evidence of the claim, even if the defendant is not present.

It may be helpful to write down ahead of time the facts of the case in the order in which they happened. This will help you organize your thoughts and make a clear presentation of your story. On the trial date, you must bring with you any witnesses, checks, bills, papers, photographs or letters that will help you prove your case. If you are submitting documents as exhibits at trial, bring copies for the magistrate and for the defendant. If you need a witness to come to court but the witness will not come, ask the clerk- magistrate's office for a witness summons which you must then arrange to have a constable or deputy sheriff deliver to the witness. You may need an expert witness to prove any matter not within common experience. The laws governing small claims are the same as those for other lawsuits, except that simplified procedures are used. The plaintiff must prove that the claim is one which the law recognizes and that the defendant is liable, or the magistrate will enter a decision for the defendant.

During the trial

Be sure to arrive on time. If your case is not resolved by a mediator, a trial will be held before a magistrate. The plaintiff will be asked to tell his or her side of the story, then the defendant will tell his or her side. Each will have an opportunity to ask questions of the other side and the other side's witnesses. To prevail, the law requires the plaintiff to prove the validity of his or her claim.

If both parties are present when the case is called, the case will go forward unless there is good cause for a continuance. If you are ready to go forward and the other party wants a continuance, make sure you inform the magistrate if you object.

The magistrate will make a decision. Notice of the decision (called a "judgment") will be given or sent to each side.

Winning your case

If you won your case, you are required to notify the court in writing within 10 days after you collect the full amount of the court’s judgment. You do need not use any particular form for your notice, but be sure to include the court’s docket number. You may also choose to use either the Acknowledgment of Satisfaction of Judgment form or the Acknowledgment of Satisfaction of Judgment on Counterclaim form (see additional resources below) to notify the court.

Additional Resources for Winning your case

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