In these challenging economic times, everyone is trying to save a buck, especially when it comes to legal fees. When there is a fair amount of money at stake, representing yourself may actually cost you money because you may end up losing a case a skilled attorney could have won. However, for the myriad of small claims under $5,000 for everything from poor home repairs to unpaid debts, presenting your own claim in the local District Courts is an option worth considering.
In Pennsylvania, claims under $12,000 may be brought in the local District Magisterial Courts. The claim must be filed where the defendant is, or where the action happened. For example, if the claim is about defective repairs in your home in Yardley, PA, you may file the complaint in the District Court in nearby Morrisville (which covers the Yardley area) even though the contractor may have its office or shop over in Newtown. However, if you take your car to a shop in Newtown and the repairs are done poorly there, then you must file your complaint in the District Court in Newtown, PA. To find the District Court for your area, go to www.pacourts.us and click on “Minor Courts.”
Once you have located the appropriate court, you must file a complaint. It is a simple, one-page form and can be obtained from the court. Your complaint can be as brief as “Contractor performed work poorly and cost me $___ to have fixed.” There is a fee to file your complaint.
Once the complaint is filed, the court will notify you of a date for the hearing. You must show up for the hearing prepared to present any witnesses or evidence you have to support your claim. If either party fails to show, the court may enter judgment in favor of the other party.
At the hearing, the better prepared you are to present your case, the better you help the judge understand the issues and allow him/her to rule in your favor. If the case is about a contract, you must present a copy of the contract and be prepared to argue what language supports your right to the money owed. If the complaint is about poor repairs, present photographs of the poor repairs. Photographs are crucial evidence. Unless the poor work is obvious, you may need an expert, for example, another qualified repairman to testify as to why the work was not done correctly and what it will cost to fix.
Present to the court copies of repair bills or invoices that show how much you are owed. Even better, prepare a short summary of your total damages listing each expense and attach the bills to your summary. The easier you make the judge’s job, the more likely he/she is to rule in your favor.
Finally, even if you plan on representing yourself, paying for an hour of an attorney’s time in a consultation is a wise investment. The attorney will be able to review your case and point out potential problems to fix before the defendant or his/her attorney points them out to the judge at the hearing.
If you need help with a small claim, call the Fegley Law Firm. Mr. Fegley has 30 years of litigation experience. We Give You Peace of Mind.