With so many different courts in Pennsylvania, it can be easy to feel completely lost when filing a smalls claim complaint. Understanding the complexities and nuances of the Pennsylvania small claims system can help you win the money you’re entitled to. Hiring a professional attorney is also a great way to take the burden off your back. Below are some of the things you need to know about the small claims system in Pennsylvania. 

Common Pleas Court or Magisterial District Courts?

Knowing the right court to go to is step one of the process. Unfortunately, this is also one of the most confusing steps. While you can file a claim for $12,000 or less in a Common Pleas Court, most attorneys recommend filing your claim in a Magisterial District Court. That’s because these courts are less formal, less expensive, and faster than Common Pleas Courts. 

You can file a civil suit at a Magisterial District Court if you have a complaint against a person or business. Magisterial Courts have a $12,000 limit that does not include the court costs involved in the suit. If you are successful in your case, you are entitled to reimbursement for the court costs. Any lawsuit over $12,000 must be filed at the Court of Common Pleas.

Which Magisterial Court Do I Need to Go Through?

You will need to determine what Magisterial Court you need to go through. Typically, any suit must be filed where the person you are suing lives or is located.  Hiring an attorney will help you with this process.

For example, you could file a small claim stemming from a traffic accident at the office of the Magisterial District Judge who serves the territory of where the incident occurred. Any suit filed outside of the territory will likely not be seen. 

Steps In Filing A Small Claim Civil Lawsuit

Understanding the steps in filing a small claim civil lawsuit will better help you prepare. It’s important to note that by filing, you will be the plaintiff, the person you are suing will be the defendant, you must know the amount of money you are suing for, and you should prepare a statement explaining why you believe you are entitled to the money. Here are the three steps involved in the filing process:

  • Form preparation – Complete the Civil complaint form fully and neatly.
  • Filing the complaint – Once you have prepared the form, you must file it at the correct Magisterial District Court office. You need to come prepared to pay the filing fees.
  • Serving the complaint – Once you file the claim, a hearing will be scheduled within 12 and 60 days of when you filed. The other party that is involved must receive a copy of the complaint. The two ways you can do that are through certified mail or personal service by a sheriff or constable.

What Happens at the Hearing?

Those present at the hearing will be yourself, your witness, your attorney, the defendant, defense witnesses, the defendant’s attorney, and the Magisterial District Judge. A courtroom is typically open to the public as well. The judge will explain the procedure to you before the hearing starts. During this part, don’t be afraid to ask questions. 

During the hearing, you are given an opportunity to tell what happened that lead to you suing your defendant. You will also show evidence, including papers, bills, receipts, or letters that strengthen your case. Your witness will also share what they know about the case. The defendant in the case is given the same opportunity. Following the hearing, the Magisterial District Judge will decide on the spot or within five days of the hearing. 

When Will I Get Paid?

If you win your case, you will get a judgment on paper stating that the defendant owes you a specific amount of money. The defendant can either pay you upfront or opt into a payment plan, paying you in installments lasting up to 12 months. The defendant has 30 days to appeal the decision to Common Pleas Court, which will delay any payment until the appeal has been decided. 

It’s important to remember that the court is not responsible for paying you. It will be your responsibility to file the judgment and collect money from the defendant. If the defendant does not appeal within 30 days, you may be able to go to the Magisterial District Court and ask that an Order of Execution be entered by the Magisterial District Judge. 

Will I Need An Attorney?

While an attorney is not mandatory, it is recommended. That’s because the process can be difficult for those without experience. Any mistakes made during the filing process can lead to your claim being tossed out almost immediately. On top of that, having an attorney can help during the hearing process. If you are in need of an attorney in Pennsylvania, our team here at eLocal is here to help. 

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