Small claims courts are intended to provide speedy and informal resolution of claims up to $6,000. In Porter County small claims cases are heard in Valparaiso and Portage. The filing fee is $96.00 and there is a $25.00 fee for service by Sheriff. If you prevail on your claims these fees are generally recoverable, in addition to damages. The amount of fees can change so you should always check with the Clerk of the Court before filing. If your claim is worth more than $6,000 you can bring it in small claims court but you waive any damages over $6,000. Most claims for money damages can be heard in small claims court. If your claim is breach of contract attach the contract to the form or explain that you don’t have the contract.
The small claims action must be filed on a Court approved form which the Clerk will provide you. The claims should be described simply. For example: “The Defendant negligently knocked over the Plaintiff’s lamp post with her car causing $2,000 in damages.” You must have a current address for the Defendant so that they can be properly served with a copy of the Complaint/Claim.
Individuals can file in small claims court without an attorney. However, if you are doing business as a corporate entity or limited liability partnership and the amount in dispute is $1,500 or more you must be represented by an attorney.
If you are sued in small claims court in Porter County you do not need to file an answer or other document responding to the claim. However, if you have a claim against the persons suing you and it is for $6,000 or less it can be filed in this action. The claim must be filed using the Court approved forms provided by the Clerk, and it must be filed with the Court and received by the plaintiff at least seven (7) days before the trial.
In Porter County the small claim is set for an “Initial Hearing”. Generally this is not a trial and you do not need to bring your evidence or witnesses. However, read the notice of Initial Hearing carefully. The Court can order the Clerk to set the trial date for the initial hearing.
If the Defendant does not appear at the initial hearing the Court will generally enter judgment for the amount sought by the Plaintiff. If the Plaintiff does not appear the matter will generally be dismissed. If both parties appear, the Court will encourage settlement and may suggest possible mediation. If the parties are unable to reach agreement, the matter will be set for trial.
At the trial, affidavits and other hearsay evidence are admissible. You can call witnesses and can subpoena witnesses to compel their appearance. You will have a relatively short time to present your case so you won’t want to bring ten witnesses. Have your evidence prepared and numbered as Exhibits. Ask to admit all of your exhibits at the start of the proceedings. Good Luck.
If you have questions regarding small claims, or other similar issues, please contact your HWE relationship attorney or visit us at http://www.hwelaw.com.