Small Claims Laws

In the U.S., small claims law is administered by the district courts. The limit for a small claim case differs according to the state. For example, in Maine, it is $6000. While the actual amount under dispute can be higher, the claim amount should be less than the small claim limit. However, this limit does not include any legal costs involved like a filing fee. Also, the plaintiff might be able to recover even the legal costs, in addition to the claim amount. The judgment of the small claims court is final and the plaintiff cannot file another case later to recover the balance amount.

Application of small claims law

The small claims law is generally used for the following:

  • Collecting a debt
  • Getting goods returned
  • Canceling an illegal contract
  • Getting defective goods repaired
  • Getting refunds

Filing a claim - Location

According to the small claims law, a claim can be filed in the district court division

  • Where the incident related to the small claim occurred
  • Where the defendant stays
  • Where the defendant conducts business
  • Where a registered agent of the business can be found ( in case the party defending the case is a business)

‘Making Service’

In a small claims case, it is important that the plaintiff notifies or ‘makes service’ on the defendant. According to the small claims law, if the defendant is a company, a responsible officer, director or such other authorized person can be served. Plaintiffs can either take the assistance of a court clerk or make service on their own. If they decide to independently serve notice, they can use any of the below three methods:

First class mail

The plaintiff must obtain the service form either from the court or from the small claims website, fill it and send it to the defendant by first class mail. If no reply is received within 20 days, the plaintiff will have to use another method.

Certified mail

According to the small claims law, the plaintiff can send the service form by certified mail. If the plaintiff accepts it and acknowledges receipt, the post office will send such acknowledgment to the plaintiff. If the defendant does not sign, the post office will return the mail to the plaintiff, who would then have to resort to the third method.

Service by sheriff

Under this method, the plaintiff has to submit the service form along with the required number of copies and any other necessary documents to the sheriff’s office, which will forward the notice to the defendant.

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