Small claims is truly the "people's court". If someone owes you money or you feel that you were wronged, and the amount is less than $5,000, you may file a case in Small Claims Court. In most cases you do not need a lawyer for a small claims case. If your case is more complex, you might be better off hiring an attorney. If you need assistance locating an attorney, you may visit www.flabar.org or call the Florida Bar's referral service at (800)342-8011.
How do I file a small claims case?
- The Plaintiff (the person bringing the lawsuit) must complete a small claims worksheet, a statement of claim and a statement of responsibility. These three (3) documents are filed with the civil department at the Clerk's Office along with any evidence you have to substantiate your claim such as contracts, estimates, or other documents. You may not file a case on behalf of someone else unless you are an attorney or the parent/guardian of a minor plaintiff.
- You must also include the appropriate filing fee (based upon amount of claim) at the time of the filing.
- A summons directed to the defendant (the party that you are suing) is issued by the Clerk.
- The complaint and summons is then served on the defendant either by Certified Mail (FL Only) or by the Sheriff.
- You cannot serve the summons yourself and the case cannot proceed until service is complete.
- If the defendant is out of state, you must find the address of the defendant and the person who will serve the summons and pay the fee for service to provide to the clerk.
Is the defendant a minor, out of Hernando County, hard to find or a corporation?
- If the defendant is a minor, they must be represented by a parent, guardian or attorney.
- If the defendant lives in another county, you are welcome to file your case in Hernando County if you live here. You should be aware that should you later learn that the case is properly brought in another jurisdiction you will be required to pay the filing fee in that county and your filing fee here is not refundable.
- If you know where the defendant is employed, they can be served where they work. You can also search official records or other online resources for alternate addresses.
- If the defendant is a corporation, you should research the registered agent through the Florida Department of State to obtain an address for proper service.
What happens after the case is filed?
- Once service is complete, a Pre-trial Hearing is set in front of the judge.
- The judge may assign a mediator at the hearing to help you resolve your case.
- If your case is not resolved, a final hearing (like a trial) will be set.
- At the final hearing, each side is given the opportunity to present their evidence to the judge who will render a decision.
- SUBPOENAS: If you have a witness who will not appear voluntarily, for a $7.00 per witness fee you may request a subpoena be issued by the Clerk. You must also pay the Sheriff $40 per witness for service of the subpoena and the witness himself is entitled to $6.00 per day and $0.06 per mile.
- Note: Winning a small claims case results in a judgment in your favor. Getting a judgment does not always mean you will be paid. If the person you sue has no assets, it will be difficult to collect your judgment.
I won! How do I get my money?
- Lien any real property. Record the judgment in the official records in any county in which the defendant owns real property. Record the judgment and an address affidavit at the same time with the Clerk of Circuit Court. A recorded judgment shows that you have a claim of lien against any real estate the defendant owns or may own in that county. Your claim on that property is a charge against it when the owner sells it. Because of that, he will usually have to pay the judgment before he can obtain clear title to the property for resale. There will be recording fees involved.
- Writ of Execution. In some cases you might be able to obtain a Writ of Execution ten (10) days after the final judgment. This document allows the Sheriff to take custody of certain property and sell it to satisfy your judgment. There are many laws about what property a Sheriff may seize to satisfy a judgment so an attorney would be advisable at this stage of the process.
- Writ of Garnishment. A Writ of Garnishment may be filed against the defendant's wages, bank account or a third party having in his possession money owed to the defendant. Due to the complexity of garnishments, we recommend that you consult an attorney or a library with legal texts available, so that the proper procedures are followed. This office cannot prepare the Writ of Garnishment for you.
- For additional information on collecting on a judgment, visit http://www.sunbiz.org/jlien_info.html