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Alternatives to Small Claims Court: How to Solve a Problem

Updated on June 20, 2013

SMALL CLAIMS COURT: DO YOU NEED IT?

As I wrote about in my article How to File a Small Claims Case and Myths Exposed; the majority of the information you find online appears to be written by people who have never been to small claims court because, as someone who has been to small claims court, I know the information they are broadcasting isn't fully accurate - in fact, some of it isn't even accurate at all; its as if they literally make up a fastasy of what they think court is or they have simply watched way too much tv.

Anyway, I encourage you to read my other article as well; you may even want to consider reading that one first then come back to this one (don't worry, it will link you right back here at the end).

Deciding if you need Small Claims court is a very important decision because it can impact your future in many different ways. As discussed in the other article, the collection process can be horrible, the person you are suing has a chance to "counter-sue" (meaning you may end up owing them money) and on top of those things, a small claims case can consume years of your life, hundreds of dollars and unending headache. Trust me - it's NOT what you see on TV and it's NOT as "simple" as being awarded a judgement in your favor.

So let's get back to the actual question, "Do I need small claims court?" - the answer might be "no". So I am going to break each topic down into sections below:


I AM BEING HARASSED: CAN I SUE IN SMALL CLAIMS COURT?

If you are being stalked or harassed, you don't want Small Claims Court, you instead want to get a Restraining Order or a PPO.

You will be almost guarenteed to lose a Small Claims case for "damages" UNLESS the person stalking / harassing has caused actual monetary damages THAT YOU CAN PROVE (<-- "Prove" is the keyword here). Trying to "prove" how mentally distraught you are due to the harassment is basically impossible because there is no way to put a monetary value on your mind or my mind. Now, if the person stalking you HAS caused damage, like lets say they are so crazy that they keyed their name into your vehicle, you have the right to have them pay to repair the damage to your vehicle - BUT that does not mean you'll be getting a new, full body paint job. You will only be awarded the amount it costs to fix the damaged area; if they keyed their initals into your drivers-side door, you will likely be awarded the REIMBURSEMENT costs for painting the door only.

NEIGHBOR DISPUTES: CAN I SUE IN SMALL CLAIMS COURT?

If you are involved in a dispute with a neighbor, the best thing to do is first try to reason with your neighbor. If your neighbors kid accidentally hit a baseball through your window, he or she may have no problem paying for the window.

If your neighbor is impossible to reason with, then you may have no choice but to take the case to Small Claims Court.

Just like what was mentioned above: you will only be entitled to "win" damages that "make you whole". So if a window was broken out due to a baseball, you will be able to recover costs for the same or similar window. If your window is ancient, it is very likely that you will not be awarded the costs of a brand new window, but instead the costs of replacing the glass on your old window. Keep this in mind when trying to "reason" with your neighbor as well. If the window can have a replacement done for $100 versus $300 for a brand new window, this may work well for both parties.

SOMEONE AND I CAN'T AGREE: DO I SUE THEM?

Depending on what your disagreement is about and what evidence you have in regard to the disagreement, you can likely sue. However, a practical alternative is to take advantage of a Small Claims Mediation Program. A Small Claims Mediation Program allows both parties to AGREE to an alternative. This means that both parties have to be willing to "give a little". Using the example above with the broken out window:

Party 1: Had window broken out and wants $300 immediately to replace it

Party 2: Argues that the window isn't worth $300 and states they don't have $300 laying around to pay for the window

Possible Outcomes:

a.) As discussed, perhaps the glass can be replaced as opposed to the whole window

b.) A payment plan can be arranged to assist the second party in repaying the first party for the damaged window

c.) Since Mediation allows parties to "think outside the box", the party who is responsible for paying for the damage may have a friend or relative in the window business and can offer to have it done for much less.


Check out the video below to see how Small Claims Mediation Programs work:

SMALL CLAIMS MEDIATION PROGRAM VIDEO

SOMEONE LIED ABOUT ME: DO I HAVE A CASE AGAINST THEM?

A lie is considered Defamation. Defamation is the communication of a false statement that harms the reputation of an individual, business, product, group, government,religion, or nation. You may have also heard the terms "Slander" or "Libel".

Slander is defined as "a harmful statement in a transitory form, especially speech"

Libel is defined as "defamation by written or printed words, pictures, or in any form other than by spoken words or gestures".

So, let's say someone maliciously posts a video online about you that contains untruths or a twist on the truth which essentially makes the video untrue and the untrue video easily identifies you thus causing your reputation to be tarnished, then you have been defamed. Equally if someone does similar with creating online posts or sending emails or text messages that contain untruths about you and the untruths cause you harm, then you have been defamed. In which case you stand grounds to sue BUT you need an "amount" to sue for. Determining the amount can be tricky if you cannot prove harm.

In this scenario, you would most likely have to be able to show that you have been terminated from your job or have suffered financial loss due to the defamation (unless the defamation is slander, in which case monetary damages are assumed). In addition, a legal claim based on defamation entitles the victim to recover against the defamer for his or her emotional damages.

Unfortunately you will likely need a lawyer to help you determine what you can collect in terms of a dollar amount. There are numerous defenses to Defamation, Slander and Libel claims, so a lawyer is really the only way this can be correctly handle.

I WANT TO SUE A BUSINESS THAT WRONGED ME

If you feel you were wronged by a business you first need to evaluate the wrong doing. If you were ripped off by a shady internet company, you may want to file a complaint with the online division of the FBI called the I3C. This includes pyramid schemes, check chasing scams and more. In these cases, "reasoning with the business" when you KNOW you have been duped is out of the question.

However, if your complaint is against a local business, take steps to try to reason with the business. Ask to speak to a manager. If the manager is uncooperative, ask to speak to the owner. If the business is a small business, you should be able to easily lookup the owner or perhaps even see them working in their store. If the business is a franchise you may have to send emails to the corporation.

As I have written about before, you may be surprised at how many times an employee makes an error and the owner (or perhaps even manager) is never made aware of the error. Usually if you go to someone higher up you will be able to get resolution. Often, an employee simply is not authorized to give you the resolution you are seeking. An example of this would be that my employees have no way to take "managerial actions" on our registers. Even if the employee wants to preform managerial tasks, unless they are a manager, these functions are not offered to them. So, by yelling at an employee who can't help even if they want to, you are doing nothing but causing yourself and the employee stress. In other cases; I have been to restaurants or stores where I have seen an employee act very rudely to a customer. in the end, this is the same situation: PLEASE REPORT THESE EMPLOYEES. Without consumers reporting the "bad apple" to a manager or owner, the higher-ups have no idea and the business ultimately suffers.

Now, let's say you feel you have been wronged by a business and you have went to the highest-up person you can find and they refuse to help you. You now need to determine "why". Here's an example of a situation I experienced. A man bought his teenage daughter a $50 bracelet for Christmas. Then, six months later, he returns to the store with the bracelet that was extremely worn and broken. He wanted a refund. Unfortunately, our Refund Policy requires the return to be made within 60 days. Six months far exceeds our Return Policy. In addition, nothing lasts forever and a business cannot survive if it forever-replaces everything when it becomes worn due to being loved. Since I could not accept the return but still valued his business, I offered him 20% off the purchase of any piece of his choice. He wan't happy and still insisted the business owed him another $50 bracelet. In this case, I really had no choice but to say "no".

In a different case, a very upset customer came in. She had purchased an item and did not follow "DRY CLEAN ONLY" instructions. Her failure to dry clean resulted in a stone embellishment falling off the item during the items time spent flopping around in her washer and dryer. However, we were able to point out to the customer that the piece was a DRY CLEAN ONLY and also offer to replace the stone for her at no charge. The customer was thrilled and left very happy (and also slightly embarrassed about not reading the tag).

So, with those two stories in mind; are you able to reason with the business and GET WHAT IS FAIR? By "Fair", I mean for both yourself AND the business?

If you cannot find a "fair" resolution AND you are not in the wrong (i.e: you have not violated a return policy or improperly cared for an item), then you my want to consider Small Claims Court.

SOMEONE STOLE MY CONTENT / VIDEOS / PHOTOS!

If your online work has been ripped off, then you should check out my article on Stolen Online Work and learn the options. This article goes over every way to make reports against the stolen content and how content is stolen. As you will read, you can file Legal Notices to have the content removed.

If you want to sue, you will need to prove how the stolen content has financially damaged you. For example, let's say you copy this article. And let's say that prior to you posting my stolen content on your website, I was making $300 a month off it because it was #1 in search results. BUT, only after you copied my content, your article is now #1 and competing with my article. AND, since you posted a copy of my same article, I have now dropped down to only $10 per month. I am rightfully entitled to be paid for my damages that were directly caused by your theft of my content.

SOMEONE HACKED MY EMAIL AND SENT SPAM! I WANT TO SUE!!

You do indeed have grounds for a lawsuit if you are able to identify the person who hijacked or hacked your email, even if he/she did not send spam.

In order to proceed with a case, you will need to pull data showing that the individual compromised your email. Check out my articles below:

I WAS A VICTIM OF CREDIT CARD FRAUD / IDENTITY THEFT

If you know who the individual is who used your identity or card without permission, you absolutely are entitled to damages. Since a Fraud case / Identity theft can be BOTH civil and criminal, you will likely want to hire a lawyer. Check out my article about Chase Banking Fraud and also How to File a Case with the iC3.

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