Small Claims Court

November 6, 2014

Want your day in court and want to avoid exposure to lawyers?  When a person represents himself or herself that person is said to be appearing before the court pro se.  People appearing pro se are not usually successful when they are matched against a lawyer on the other side but that unfortunate situation is entirely avoided in small claims court where lawyers are barred from appearing for others.

In Washington claims up to $5000 can be heard in small claims court.  Each side can present its version of the case, call witnesses, and present evidence, all without the involvement of lawyers.  The rules of evidence are very loosely applied, as the litigants customarily are unfamiliar with the rules.

I’ve sat in on small claims cases.  Most of the judges acted as facilitators, helping the participants through the procedural confusion; a few act like bejeweled potentates, but that is certainly not the norm.  The average case that I saw lasted ten to twenty minutes, maybe a little more.

If your claim is more than $5000 but for one reason or another you feel that it is not worth hiring a lawyer, you can bring the action for $5000 in small claims court, waiving your right to the excess amount.  The outcome of small claims cases is not entirely predictable but the price is right.  If you do go there, it’s a good idea to have lawyer look at your complaint and discuss it with you for an hour or so.