Why getting sued in small claims court is great

Whenever one of my clients tells me we’re being sued in small claims court, I tell them this is great news.

Small claims court punishes plantiffs – the people who bring the suit. If they lose at the small claims level, their right to appeal is gone. If they try to bring suit in limited civil court, alleging the small claims court trial was mishandled, it’s defeated with res ajudicata, a principle that lets the plaintiff know they’ve already had a bite at the apple – they’ve had their shot.

What I care about for my clients is the right to appeal – that’s where you win or lose. I could care less about the initial small claims court hearing. Win, lose, or draw – I want to get my client to an appeal. If you file in small claims, you can’t appeal – but if you’re a defendant, you have a right to appeal.

In an appeal, that’s where you bring in the legal doctrine to defeat your opponent. We’re talking statutes, legislation, contractual obligations, theories of unjust enrichment, estoppel theory, and everything else under the sun.

You’re allowed to bring an attorney to an appeal. You’re also allowed to file a brief – a motion of points and authorities – basically a memo telling the judge why the case should be decided in your favor.

Small claims court is decidedly informal – no attorneys allowed. Because of this, rules are generally broken in favor of “splitting the baby” – which usually results in some sort of financial liability for the shop or tech. It’s really a glorified ADR (alternative dispute resolution) hearing – not a court of law. The judge doesn’t really apply the law correctly, as he’s usually a commissioner, a practicing attorney filling in, resulting in misapplication.

What you want is a court of law – you want to be in front of a judge – you want to file a brief – you want the judge to know why you’re right.

Any lawyer worth his salt will tell you the trial is won or lost on the written brief.

Who cares if you lose at the small claims hearing – an appeal is where small claims court plaintiffs get slaughtered.


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