DIFFICULTY: Legal help not required
FILING FEE: $0
In the state of Florida, “small claims” is defined as a case where the disputed property has a value less than $5,000, excluding costs incurred during the legal proceeding (attorney fees, etc.). Small claims are heard by the County Court, so be sure to file your claim in the correct county.
Step 1: Obtain Form from County Court Clerk
To bring a small claims suit in Florida, you must first fill out the correct forms, which are known as a Statement of Claim and a Notice or Service of Process. You can obtain this from the County Courthouse Clerk in your county. Ensure that the form is filled out as completely and accurately as possible, and that you have as much documentation related to your case as possible. The more evidence you have, the stronger your case will be.
Step 2: File the forms & Pre-trial conference
Once you’ve filed the necessary forms, the court will serve a copy of them to the defendant. This is usually done via the US Postal Service, but it may be necessary for the sheriff of the county to deliver it. Once the papers have been served, both you and the defendant will have to attend a pre-trial conference, where a judge will considering the preliminary facts of the case. The judge may simplify the issues, or refer the case to mediation as needed. You can settle the case at this point with a stipulation agreement, which becomes part of the court order.
Step 3: Trial
If an agreement cannot be reached in mediation, the case will proceed to trial, where both parties may present evidence and call witnesses. Trial by jury is allowed in Florida small claims court, and either party can request it, but must do so during the initial filing process. You are also permitted to bring an attorney, though it is not required. If either party fails to show at the trial date, the judge may either award a default judgment, or set a new trial date.
Step 4: Judgment
After hearing the case, the judge or jury will issue a judgment on the case. This will be written and entered into the public record. If the plaintiffs feel that the judge has made an error, they each have ten days from the signing of the judgment to file with the county clerk for a rehearing.
Once the hearing has been decided, the winner will have to execute and enforce the order. Once the money or property has been exchanged, the plaintiff will have to provide the defendant with a satisfaction of judgment form, which can be obtained from the county clerk. Note that the court cannot guarantee that awarded monies will be paid.