The People’s Court has been airing for over 30 years and for most people it is their only exposure to Small Claims Court. In Florida, Small Claims Court includes all claims up to $5,000 and in most cases the parties represent themselves in Court. The right to represent yourself includes corporations which are required under Florida law to be represented by counsel for all claims exceeding $5,000.
In Small Claims Court there is typically a Pretrial Conference which is generally held within sixty days of the lawsuit being filed. The Pretrial Conference is generally held a courtroom and is generally crowded as the Judge may preside over as many as fifty cases at one Pretrial Conference. Once your case is called on the docket, the first thing the Judge does is order the parties to attend non-binding mediation in a separate room with a state certified mediator. The mediation conference is non-binding which means the mediator is not making any decisions about the facts or the law and the parties are not required to settle the case. If the parties cannot reach a settlement, the parties then go back to the Courtroom where the Judge may ask for a brief statement of the case prior to scheduling the case for trial.
The trial is generally held within sixty to ninety days after the Pretrial Conference. At trial each side has the opportunity to present documentary evidence and testimony to support their case. Small claims trials are more informal than typical trials and may even be conducted in the judge’s chambers rather a courtroom. The judge will typically ask their own questions to the parties and any witnesses during the trial and typically the judge issues a final judgment at the conclusion of the trial. If a Final Judgment is entered in favor of the plaintiff the judge will advise the Defendant that they could be subject to garnishment or other collection procedures if they fail to pay off the Final Judgment.
It may not always be financially feasible for a party to hire an attorney for a case in Small Claims Court. However, one thing I have been preaching to clients who are dealing with Small Claims Court on their own is to at minimum discuss everything with an attorney. This is especially true if you are the Defendant whom is being sued in Smalls Claim Court. A failure to understand the process could result in a judgment that you are financially responsible to satisfy.