Everyone knows the frustration of being in an accident or getting injured on a sidewalk that is uneven. But if you do not have a lawyer or decide to go a different route, what options do you have? Depending on the severity of what happened, you could take the issue to Small Claims Court.
What Is Small Claims Court?
Small Claims Court is in every state, and usually, it is a municipal court that is designed to help provide recourse to people as well as help them recover small amounts of money. Every state is different in the amount that you can recover.
Philadelphia Municipal Court
In the Philadelphia Municipal Court, you can recover up to a maximum of $12,000 dollars. The court will usually hear negligence actions and contract actions. But what does that mean? Let us go ahead and break it down.
A contract is a written or verbal agreement between two or more parties. Examples of this would be applying and receiving a credit card. That is a contract that you and the company come to. They supply you with a line of credit, and you must pay within the parameters, or you suffer penalties based on the company’s policy, which would be considered a breach of contract.
Negligence is based on the responsibility to look out for another’s well-being. When that duty is broken and someone is hurt physically or emotionally, the victim has the ability to file a claim in order to seek compensation.
Starting a Small Claims Case
If you were to file a claim yourself in the Philadelphia Municipal Court, you would have to go to their office, which is on Chestnut Street, on the 10th floor. In this situation, only the parties who entered a contract or the victim of negligence can bring an action.
This is not always the case though, as a person who has the right to bring an action may authorize someone who has knowledge of the case to bring the action in their place. The court even has a form, the Authorized Representative Form, just for that purpose. If you are going that route, be sure that before you follow through with filing your suit, you complete that form and it is signed by both the representative and the person who could have brought the action.
The court also has interviewers that are there to help you with the filing process, however, these interviewers cannot by law provide legal advice. There is also a charge in order to file the action and charge to serve the legal papers to the opposing party, but if you are able to prove you cannot afford these charges, the court may allow you to file an action and avoid the initial filing fee.
Lastly, before coming to court you must know the name and the address of the party you plan on suing, and the court will not accept a post office box. If the party being sued is not an individual but an entity, you must make sure that you have the correct name of the corporation, limited liability entity, or partnership depending on what it is.
Required Documents That You Must Bring to Court
Required documents, if they exist, when bringing a breach of contract action:
- Documents explaining the agreement between you and the party you are suing.
- Correspondence between you and the party you are suing.
- Documents such as photographs, diagrams, invoices, estimates, contracts, and canceled checks showing the damages you suffered or which help explain your case.
Required documents, if they exist, when bringing a negligence action:
- Correspondence between you and the party you are suing.
- Documents such as photographs, diagrams, medical records, invoices, estimates, contracts, and canceled checks showing the damages you suffered or which help explain your case.
If you have documents you intend to use at trial that were not attached to your original filing, they must be sent to the party you sued or to his/her attorney at least ten (10) days before trial. Such documents may include the following:
- Bills, records, and reports of hospitals, doctors, dentists, registered nurses, licensed practical nurses, physical therapists or other licensed health care providers;
- Bills for drugs, medical appliances, and prostheses;
- Affidavits of a repairman setting forth the actual or estimated cost to repair damaged property and of the fair market value of that damaged property and affidavits of treating physicians setting forth the amount charged for professional services (preprinted affidavits may be obtained from the court);
- Estimates of the value of the damaged property and bills and estimates setting forth the cost to repair or replace damaged property;
- A report of the rate of earnings and time lost from work or lost compensation prepared by an employer;
- An official weather or traffic signal report or standard United States government life expectancy table; and
- A document that appears to have been made in the regular course of business.
The Small Claims Trial
The Small Claims trials are heard in the same building on Chestnut Street, just on the 6th floor. The information about when the trial is, the time, and which courtroom you will be stated on the original filing that was done.
If you go to request a continuance, it needs to be done at least 10 days before the scheduled trial. All requests in the Philadelphia Municipal Court will need to be addressed to Patricia McDermont, Deputy Court Administrator, and the address for that is 1339 Chestnut Street Room 1020, Philadelphia, PA 19107. A copy must also be sent to all parties and the request must state clearly the reason why a continuance is needed and provide a phone number to call.
If you can’t make a request for a continuance 10 days before the trial, it must be filed in person at the time of the trial and the requesting party must notify all other parties before the trial that the request is going to be made.
Always remember, court starts on time. All parties must be present in the courtroom on the day of the trial on time. Make sure that you give yourself enough time to be able to pass through security and find your way to the proper room. If you are late or fail to appear, a default judgment will be filed against you. The court will send you a notice about it, and you may file a petition to open the judgment on the 10th floor. However, if you do that, you must have a good reason for missing or being late, must file the petition immediately after learning about the judgment against you, and must have a valid defense.
Before the trial, the court will allow the parties to work together to see if they can come to an agreement with the help of mediators if they want. The mediators are there to represent the court and are trained to help the parties reach a binding agreement.
All agreements are in writing and must be signed by both parties. These agreements are binding and cannot be appealed, and a party should not sign the agreement unless they fully understand what it states. Always remember that a mediator or a judge is always available as well.
If an agreement is not reached, the case will proceed to trial before a judge. The documents filed with the complaint must be brought to the court and the defending party must bring all relevant documents as well. The trial is a formal court proceeding and have guidelines that should be followed:
Maintain your composure and be polite.
Address your comments and questions to the judge unless the judge permits you to ask a question of another party.
Do not interrupt the judge or another party, you will have time to explain your case. Just be patient.
The court in the end will make an oral decision immediately after the trial, or what will happen is they will send the parties a written decision shortly afterward. The court will also provide the parties with options that are available to them.