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Small Claims and District Court

Every town and county almost has Small Claims and District Court. They are what they sound like – a place for folks to litigate minor issues, where the amount in controversy is “small.”

Small Claims Court is for non lawyer litigants – so this means you cannot have a lawyer in small claims court. You represent yourself and the other party represents himself. The rules are relaxed and the judge decides. The maximum that can be awarded in Small Claims Court is $5000 total.

District Court allows lawyers and the rules are more strict. The maximum amount that can be awarded in District Court is $25,000 total.

The realistic truth is that any dispute less than $5,000 is not worth hiring an attorney to represent you on – the cost is just prohibitive. Between $5000-$10,000 is questionable – it may or may not be worth it. Anything over $10,000 is usually worth the cost of hiring a lawyer.

If we win the dispute, we can sometimes get lawyer fees ordered to be paid back, but we can’t depend on that when conducting the cost/benefit analysis of spending money on litigation as compared to what we are likely to obtain when/if we win.

How much does District Court cost?

The cost of any matter in District Court, is $3000.  This does not include appealing the case to Circuit Court.

The one downside – or upside, depending on how you look at it – is that any litigant has an absolute right to appeal a district court decision to circuit court. So the losing party could start the case all over again in Circuit and you’ll spend more money on lawyer fees for the appeal. Most people don’t appeal and if they do appeal they don’t do it correctly, so they lose the appeal on technicalities.

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