Represent Yourself

Here's how you can stay one step ahead in small claims court

file; it varies by state. “The worst mistake that you can make is not answering a complaint,” says Chief Magistrate Judge Walter Jones of Columbia, South Carolina. “If the suing party files a complaint and has attached all pertinent information (such as contracts or receipts), the judge can decide without ever hearing from you,” he says. That is considered a liquidated complaint. If all information is not included, and you have not responded within the 30- day period, then you’ll be found in default. Damages must then be determined and, under those circumstances, you can only argue about the amount of money, not the issues in the case or any offsetting damages.

When it’s time for court, be prepared. Look polished, keep your cool and practice what you’ll say. You should be able to give your testimony in five minutes or less. Bring any evidence that will bolster your case.

The final decision. A decision is generally rendered on the spot. Whatever the outcome, you have the option to appeal; however, if you do so it will be heard by a higher court, and you should get a lawyer to represent you.

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