There was a time where I thought small claims court was the greatest avenue for enforcing your legal rights.
This is no longer the case.
Chances are the shop or tech’s issue doesn’t break the $7,500 limit for small claims court filings, leading you to believe the proper place to enforce your legal rights is small claims court. You’d be wrong.
There are some great things about small claims court – the $20 filing fee, the quickness you’re able to appear in court, the simplicity of the form, and the best part – no one can bring a lawyer. You can seek the advice of an attorney beforehand of course, but it’s you versus them – that’s it.
So what’s the downside?
Small claims court is generally judged by commissioners – local practicing attorneys who “fill in” for the court.
Commissioners generally try to “split the baby” – even if you’re right. Even if you have a signed copy of the invoice, a notation describing the phone call where additional work was authorized, etc. – expect any damages to be halved, immediately upon entering small claims court. Not to mention the high regard commissioners have for people in the automotive industry – seen as hustlers trying to pull the wool over unsuspecting customer’s eyes.
Also, your right to appeal your decision if the commissioner misapplies the law, misapplies the facts, decides he doesn’t like mechanics. . .
The right to appeal is the one of the most important avenues in the litigation toolbox of a technician – because that’s where the law is looked at – not some whining customer who claims they didn’t authorize work.
So where do you file? Limited Civil Court. You get to turn in a brief of points and authorities on the law, in front of a real judge, where your signed invoice is the only evidence you need.
You want to be able to bring a lawyer – you want to force the other side to have to hire a lawyer. You want the other side knowing you mean business. No one takes small claims court seriously.
Your attorney should take care of your lawsuit while you’re in the shop making money.
That’s the way it should be.
– William Ferreira