Missouri small claims court allows businesses or people to file lawsuits of up to $5,000 without hiring a lawyer. Before you file suit in small claims court, make sure there is no other way of settling your dispute. You may save yourself a lot of time and effort. You may file no more than twelve claims in small claims court in any calendar year.
How Small Claims Lawsuits are Filed
The plaintiff (the one who files the lawsuit) usually submits the legal documents in the associate circuit court where the person or business you are suing is located or where the product or service was bought.
Once the lawsuit is filed, a hearing date is scheduled. There are modest filing fees in small claims court. You also must pay the cost of mailing the summons by certified mail or delivering it by the sheriff.
What Happens in Court
When the court date arrives, you will tell your side of the story to the judge. You can call witnesses or use any additional information to explain your case. The defendant (the party being sued) also explains his side of the story to the judge. Do not be intimidated if the defendant is represented by an attorney. The judge has a responsibility to ensure the proceedings remain informal so your lack of legal knowledge will not hinder you. The judge then questions all parties associated with the case before making a final decision.
How to Prepare Your Small Claims Lawsuit
- Organize relevant materials such as bills, receipts and letters so you can make a complete and orderly presentation at the hearing.
- Prepare a full, but brief statement of the facts in your case.
- Determine what witnesses, if any, you want to testify. Reluctant witnesses may be subpoenaed if they are important.
- Check with the court before the hearing to find out if the defendant has been served with the summons. If service has not been made, the clerk can tell you your options. You may seek a continuance - or postponement - of the court date for this or a similar good reason.
- Be on time for the hearing. Failure to do so may result in dismissal of your lawsuit.
Court Officials Do Not Collect Money Associated with the Judge's Ruling
If you have trouble recouping money awarded in small claims court, you have additional legal remedies under the law. Associate circuit court officials can explain those options.
The losing party in small claims court also can file an application for a new trial, which will be heard in circuit court. (You usually will need a lawyer's help.) Those applications must be filed in small claims court within 10 days after the judge's order or the losing party in the case is liable for costs associated with the judgment.