Small Claims Court: The Basics

Small claims court, as its name suggests, is the court specifically designated for individual people to pursue small claims. "Small claims" are cases where a party is seeking less than $5,000. This week, our Lake of the Ozarks lawyers are here to help you get a general understanding of the Missouri small claims court.


What Is Small Claims Court?

Small claims court is sometimes called "the people's court." It is the court designed for American citizens to be able to represent themselves. However, both the plaintiff and the defendant are allowed to retain attorneys if they would prefer to have professional representation.

The small claims court may only be used to pursue financial claims valuing less than $5,000. It cannot be used to obtain property, real estate, or other assets. It may also not be used to evict tenants from property. 

The small claims court is presided over by a judge. If a claim is brought to court, the judge will hear both the plaintiff's and the defendant's perspectives and make a decision based on the information presented. Juries are not used in small claims court. Once the judge has made a decision, both the plaintiff and the defendant have the right to file for a trial de novo within ten days.

It is important to note that while the judge is responsible for issuing a final decision on the matter, the small claims court is not responsible for helping the plaintiff collect the money owed to them. As the "winner" of the claim, it will be your responsibility to take the appropriate action.

Why Go To Small Claims Court?

There are a number of reasons a person (the "plaintiff") may wish to file a suit against another party (the "defendant") within the small claims court. Sample situations may include:
  • The plaintiff paid a contractor a down payment, but the contractor failed to provide the specified service.
  • The plaintiff provided a service, but the customer refused to pay for the services rendered.
  • The plaintiff suffered minor to moderate physical injuries due to another defendant's behavior or negligence, and the defendant refused to pay for the medical expenses.
  • The defendant failed to pay one or several months' rent to the plaintiff.
  • The plaintiff loaned money to the defendant, and the defendant failed to pay the money back.

Ultimately, you may choose to file a small claims lawsuit any time you wish to take legal action to receive money that is rightfully owed to you, providing that the value is less than $5,000. If the value is greater than $5,000, you will have to file the lawsuit in the associate or circuit court divisions. This will likely incur higher court costs and attorney fees than a small claims court case.

How To File In Small Claims Court

Before filing an official claim, you may want to pursue other options to receive funds owed to you. Try contacting the other party directly first and asking them to repay you. Be sure to keep documentation of your correspondence. There is always the possibility that the other party will agree to work with you directly so that you can avoid a legal situation.

If approaching the other party directly is not an option or is unsuccessful, you may wish to file within the small claims court. The clerk may help you determine which county is appropriate for you to file in and provide you with the proper forms to file your claim. It is very important that you provide the correct address for the defendant and address the form properly - failure to do so could require you to start the process over again, which may require you to pay an additional filing fee. How the form should be addressed will depend on whether you are suing an individual or a business entity. If you are suing a business entity, the way the business is formatted (sole proprietorship, partnership, etc) will further impact the way the form must be addressed. You may need to seek professional legal advice to determine how to properly fill out the form.

PMCW Law Is Here For You

As the people's court, small claims court allows for individuals to represent themselves without involving attorneys. Self-representation allows both the plaintiff and defendant to save money by handling the situation independently. This is certainly not a bad option, but many people find that retaining an attorney is helpful, even within small claims court. Attorneys can help guide you through the process, ensure that all steps are taken correctly, provide valuable legal counsel along the way, and assist you in collecting the money owed to you once the judge has made a decision.

If you would like more information about the Missouri small claims court or would like assistance from one of our small claims attorneys in Camdenton MO, please call 573-346-7231 to schedule your initial consultation with Phillips, McElyea, Carpenter, & Welch, P.C.

Law Offices of Phillips, McElyea, Carpenter, & Welch, P.C.
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