Wednesday, November 21, 2007

ASK A KABABAYAN: Small Claims Court

"Naloko ako. It's for a small amount but I don't want others to be victimized so I want to sue this person. May nagsabi sa akin about Small Claims Court. Ano ba yon?"

I know how you feel. The moment after you've realized na nagoyo ka by a person you trust can be devastating and incredibly frustrating. Con artists have been around since the beginning of time, unfortunately. Pero somehow, mas nakakainis when it's perpetrated by a kababayan, ano?

You can either chalk it all up to experience and say, "It's only money. I can earn it back."

Or you can sue through the Small Claims Court, and yell (like that mad woman in the picture), "No, it's not fair! I will make him/her/it pay!"

Small Claims Court is the place where regular guys like you and I can have their day in court, without a lawyer at our side, to present our case.

The fee to file a claim is from $30 to $100, depending on your situation.
The maximum award varies widely by state and jurisdiction. In California, it is $7,500.

Before pursuing the matter in court, be sure to write a "demand letter" first to the other party, setting forth the payment you expect. Mention that you will go to court if the other side does not come through.

Now, here are the caveats and things to consider before filing a claim:
- There is also a statute of limitations or time limit during which claims can be filed.
- If you win a settlement, the court doesn't collect the money for you.
- Tingnan mong maige what are the odds of collecting the judgment based on the debtor's ability and willingness to pay. Baka mamroblema ka kung yung defendants ay chronically unemployed, ang business nila ay unlicensed o wala silang assets of value.
Here are some more helpful info from an L.A. Times article written by H. May Spitz: "How much should you sue for? In Ralph Warner's book Everybody's Guide to Small Claims Court in California, a chapter is dedicated to this important question. The amount varies based on the type of case. Do some research on the subject, since excessive claims may anger the judge. When getting ready for trial, organizing your evidence is particularly important. Photographs, receipts, bills and contracts or leases are important building blocks in establishing your viewpoint. Keep in mind you won't have lots of time to present your case; most folks are only given 10 to 15 minutes to state the situation, including presenting evidence. Be prepared to give specific dates for any details involved. Don't underestimate the importance of dressing appropriately. Although there is no formal dress code per se, the court is not a day at the beach or cocktail party. Don't expect witnesses to always be called. It can't hurt to bring the kind neighbor who saw the tidy apartment you claim to have left, but there may not be time after evidence is presented to question the person. Once both sides have presented their case, verdicts are either rendered on the spot or mailed within a few weeks."

For consumers in California, here are sites where you can get more information:

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