In the 21st century, courtrooms across the United States have become overwhelmed by an increasing flood of claims, torts and lawsuits handled by civil law divisions. In the Florida court system, civil divisions have created special subdivisions to focus on certain cases in the hopes of alleviating the caseload and providing streamlined service. Small claims is one of these subdivisions.
Small claims court in the Sunshine State provides individuals and business entities with an efficient way to settle disputes under $5,000. For example, a homeowner who thinks that an air conditioning technician caused $1,000 worth of damage to his or her roof can file a civil complain in small claims court.
One of the great advantages of small claims court In Florida is that the forms, filing process and case flow have been simplified for maximum efficiency. To this effect, county courthouses offer free, fill-in-the-blanks forms and a reasonable schedule of filing fees that range from $55 for claims under $100 to $300 for claims up to $5,000. The small claims process in Florida is very friendly towards self-represented defendants, but retaining an attorney will greatly improve the chances of obtaining a positive outcome.
The Filing Process
- Before claimants become plaintiffs in court, they should attempt to resolve the matter on their own. In the example above, the homeowner should ask the air conditioning repair business to either fix the roof or pay $1,000 for repairs. This demand should be made in writing and sent via certified mail, and tit may be later used as evidence in court.
- As in other civil court cases, small claims can be decided by a preponderance of evidence. To this effect, plaintiffs should gather photos, receipts, correspondence, and other items that can be used as evidence.
- Some research should be done on the defendant for the purpose of choosing the right county courthouse to file the claim in. A general rule in this regard is to file in the county where the alleged damage or injury took place; however, some cases may require filing in the county where the defendant resides or is registered as a business.
- The court requires a Statement of Claim form to be completed and properly served. Some County Clerk offices will offer basic service for a small fee, but it may be limited to a certified letter. More substantial service is offered by the Sheriff's Department for $40, and experienced civil process servers can be very effective in tracking down evasive defendants.