Do you want justice without the hassle and cost of hiring a lawyer for feeling wronged? The small claims court may be the answer for you. Small claims courts handle disputes quickly and efficiently with lower fees and less strict rules than traditional courts. Here’s everything you need to know about how the Massachusetts small claims court works.
What is Small Claims Court?
Small claims court is a special court where disputes are resolved quickly and inexpensively. A magistrate or judge hears the cases, not a jury. Unlike other courts, you can file or defend your case in small claims court without a lawyer.
How Does the Massachusetts Small Claims Court Work?
Before Small Claims Court
Did you know you have one more option before small claims court? Before filing a claim, sending a payment-demanding letter can resolve disputes outside of court, saving time and fees. If you haven’t tried this option yet, read more about how to write an effective demand letter and how best to send it to the person who owes you money. Alternatively, you can use tools such as JusticeDirect to generate and send a custom demand letter for free and leave the headache out of it!
If your demand letter did not result in your desired outcome, you can file a small claims action with a court form called a Statement of Claim and Notice of Trial. Find the form in the clerk’s office of any district, Boston municipal, or housing court. Review this list of court locations by county if you’re unsure what court pertains to you. The person or business who files the claim is called the “plaintiff”, and the person or business being sued is called the “defendant”.
Upon submitting the form, you’ll also need to pay a filing fee. The filing fee you owe will depend on the amount you are claiming is owed to you.
The defendant then has 20 days to submit an answer to the court.
After the defendant has filed an answer (or if they fail to do so), both parties will receive notice of a pretrial conference. This is an opportunity for both sides to discuss the case and try to reach an agreement without going to trial.
If an agreement cannot be reached, the case will go to trial, where both parties will have an opportunity to present their evidence and witnesses at a hearing. After hearing both sides, the judge will make a decision.
If the defendant doesn’t file an answer, you can ask the court for a default judgment against them. A default judgment means that you win your case because the defendant didn’t show up to defend themselves.
How Much Can You Sue for in MA?
You can sue for up to $7,000 in damages in Massachusetts small claims court. This includes the cost of any property damage, medical bills, or lost wages. If you’re suing for more than $7,000, you’ll have to file your case in the district or superior court.
What is the Time Limit for Filing in MA?
There are statute of limitations when it comes to filing claims.
- You have up to three years from the date of the incident to file a claim in small claims court for personal injury and property damage cases.
- You have six years from the date of the incident to file for oral and written contracts.
What Happens if You Don’t Show Up for Massachusetts Small Claims Court?
If you do not show up for your scheduled court date, the judge may dismiss your case or rule in favor of the defendant.
The Massachusetts small claims court is a great option if you’re looking for a quick and inexpensive way to resolve a dispute. You can sue for up to $7,000 without needing a lawyer, and hearings are typically held within 45 days of filing your complaint. Whether you’re the plaintiff or the defendant, it’s important to familiarize yourself with small claims procedures so that you can present your best case and get the outcome you’re hoping for.