In situations where someone owes you money, someone crashed into your vehicle, or you slipped and fell because of a property owner’s negligence, it’s vital to understand if and when small claims court is your best option. In Wisconsin, you’re able to sue (or be sued) by any individual or corporation and, while the rules and proceedings in small claims courts are simpler than other options, it’s not always the best option for your situation.
What is small claims court?
Simpler and less formal than a large claims civil case, small claims court is an option where disputes are typically quicker. In general, this is where private parties have a dispute and are looking for a resolution that doesn’t involve a large amount of money.
Can I sue for personal injury in small claims court?
Yes, you can sue for personal injury in small claims court. Small claims accepts tort cases—a wrongful act that injures someone’s body, property, business, reputation, or other interest and must be intentional or the result of negligence. As it takes expertise and knowledge to determine whether an action falls under this, an experienced attorney can help you figure out if your injury situation makes more sense for either small claims or a large claims action in civil court.
What is the most you can get in small claims court?
In Wisconsin, small claims court is limited to disputes involving $10,000 or less. Third-party complaints, personal injury claims, and actions based in tort are limited to $5,000 in small claims court. If you exceed these amounts, you must file a lawsuit in large claims in civil court. However, the issue of how much you’re suing for can become complicated when dealing with injuries caused by negligence. An experienced lawyer can help guide you down that path.
Do you need a lawyer for small claims court?
You are not required to have an attorney and can represent yourself in small claims court. However, remember that court staff cannot give you legal advice. You’ll need an attorney who can help you create a claim or defense with the evidence to prove it.
How much does it cost to file in small claims court?
You may wonder, “is it worth going to small claims court for $500?” While it’s subject to change, you’ll need to pay a fee (ranging from a few dollars to a few hundred dollars, depending on the county) to file in small claims court—but you’ll also want to consider the value of your time. If you need to take any unpaid time off from work to prepare or go to court, the actual cost of taking someone to small claims court could be higher. When the amount you lose from pursuing a case comes close to the amount you’d gain in court, it may not be worth it to go to court over a small amount of money.
How do you take someone to small claims court?
In Wisconsin, small claims court varies by each county. However, it starts by determining the proper county to file in, the right party to sue, the type of case (eviction actions, return of earnest money, return of personal property, arbitration, or other civil actions), and the amount you’re claiming, then filing the correct forms with the clerk of court’s office. The Wisconsin Court System has a guide that’s helpful in getting your claim off the ground if you want to pursue it yourself.
Varying by county, after filing a small claims case you might be required to respond by appearing at a courthouse at a specific time and place (known as a return date). Some counties require a written answer. This is also when you’ll need to prepare a summons and complaint for the party you’re suing. Include the return date on the summons before serving (or handing to) the opposing party. This cannot be done by a party to the lawsuit, and it must be done by a sheriff or private process server.
A pre-hearing will be scheduled—it will either be on the return date or set by the court for a different date. At the pre-hearing, you’ll present your case and evidence (including documents, photos, and witnesses that support your claim) before the court commissioner or judge. Beforehand, review the evidence you believe will be presented against you by the other party. Many cases can be resolved at this pre-hearing stage.
If your case is not resolved, a hearing date will be set. At this hearing, you’ll once again present your evidence and witnesses. While the evidence rules are relaxed a bit in small claims court, you must still present your testimony based on personal knowledge of the facts.
If you win the case, the judge will issue a judgment in your favor, and it will be your responsibility to collect the judgment. If you lose, you have the right to appeal the decision. Appeals must be filed within a specific time frame, generally within 10 days. You may need to take additional steps to collect the judgment if the defendant does not pay voluntarily. Options include wage garnishments, property liens, or other court-ordered collection methods.
When is small claims court the best option?
Small claims court is certainly an option if your personal injury claim is worth less than $5,000. Professional legal assistance can help you determine the value of your case so you can make the decision that’s right for you. Our seasoned personal injury attorneys have represented many people who have been injured by the negligence of others in Wisconsin and beyond, and it was our experience and compassion that helped those injured people better understand if their case needed to be elevated out of small claims court. Read our blog on what you should look for when it comes to finding and hiring a personal injury lawyer to help you help navigate these tricky situations.
We can help you
With locations in downtown Milwaukee, Mequon, West Bend, Waukesha, and the south side of Milwaukee, getting advice from our award-winning team is easy and convenient for everyone in southeastern Wisconsin. Contact our team at Murphy & Prachthauser today to help determine what your case is worth.