Updated: Oct 21, 2021
Did you know that in Alabama you can file a lawsuit in small claims court without hiring an attorney? This article will provide a basic guide on how to file a small claims lawsuit and what to expect.
What is Small Claims Court?
Small Claims Court is a division of the Alabama District Court designed to handle disputes between individuals or businesses in an informal and inexpensive way. The maximum which can be sued for in District Court is $20,000.00.
Before filing a lawsuit you should consider trying to settle with the other person or business outside of Court. If settlement is possible it will save you both time and money.
Who Can File?
In Alabama Small Claims Courts (District Court) individuals and businesses can generally represent themselves. For an individual to file a lawsuit in small claims court they must be (A) 19 years old or legally emancipated and (B) be mentally competent.
Where to File?
A small claims case can be filed in the County where the Defendant lives or where the act being sued over occurred. (for example if it is a car accident you could either sue in the County where the accident occurred or in the County where the Defendant lives).
How much will filing cost?
The filing fees for Small Claims/District Court is determined by the amount you are seeking to recover.
Before filing a lawsuit you should contact the County where you intend to file in to confirm the filing fees. Many have those amounts listed on their website. (although the website may be out of date. Best practice is to call and confirm) Also keep in mind you will need to serve the Complaint and Summons on the individual or business after the lawsuit has been filed. There is an additional cost for service. Typically the County Sherriff's office charges $50.00 to serve the documents. You could also send them via certified mail.
How to file?
On many County Court's websites you can find a copy of a small claims complaint that you can fill in. You will need to fill in all relevant fields and give a description of the claim. The key points to make sure are included: Your name, the defendant's name, the date of the incident, the amount of money sought, and a basic statement of the basis of the lawsuit. (Ex. Defendant negligently caused the car accident on (date) that resulted in Plaintiff's injuries.)
What comes next?
Gather your evidence and prepare for a trial. This means gather up any documents, photos, physical evidence, or anything else that might prove your case and have them organized and ready to present at a trial of your case. Call any witnesses you intend to bring with you to trial. Talk to them and confirm they will testify as you expect. Write yourself an outline of what evidence you want to present, what witnesses you want to call, and decide on the order you want to do this in.
If the Defendant fails to respond to your Complaint within 14 days of being served or fails to appear for the trial the Court may award a Default Judgment. The Court will likely hold a damages hearing to determine the amount to be awarded. This could include court costs and interest depending on the type of case. You should always request this on top of the judgment you are requesting.
Should you have any questions please reach out and I would be happy to assist you. If representing yourself seems too daunting you can always hire an attorney to represent you in your lawsuit. I offer free consultations/case evaluations. If you would like to meet with me you can email or call me.