5 Tips for Winning a Business Dispute in Small Claims Court
Business Dispute As a business owner, you hope you never have to enter a courtroom in your life. Your presence in a courtroom is a likely indication that something is wrong. However, if you do find yourself in a courtroom one day – regardless of which side you’re on – it’s imperative that you understand how the process works and what you can and cannot do.
Here are a few tips to help you win a business dispute in small claims court:
Understand the Purpose of Small Claims Court
“A civil claim, unlike a criminal charge, is a complaint that one party has wronged another, but not in a criminal manner,” attorney Gordon Dykstra explains. “It could be negligence that caused someone to get hurt, a contract or agreement was reneged on, or even a vehicle accident can result in a civil claim for recovery via financial compensation. The court process is how such claims are filed, judged and resolved.”
If you have a large dispute or issue, it won’t go to small claims court. Small claims court is designed for minor discrepancies that fall below a certain dollar amount (which vary by jurisdiction). This court process is designed to free up the larger courts to focus on more important issues.
Gather Documentation on Everything
The key to being successful in small claims court is having documentation and information on every statement you make. Small claims courts value proof of evidence over everything else.
For example, let’s say you’re using a client who never paid for a service you provided to them. While you can make a pretty strong verbal claim that the defendant should have paid you, it’s essentially your word versus their word. However, if you can provide a signed contract, email correspondence, and other relevant information that shows they should have paid, you have a pretty strong case.
Appeal to the Judge
There is no jury in a small claims court. The judge has the ultimate say in the outcome of the case. This means your number one priority is to appeal to the judge.
Judges listen to dozens of cases per day. Understand that you’re just another story to him. “To keep the judge’s attention, get to the point fast by describing the event that gave rise to your claim,” Nolo explains. “Immediately follow up by stating how much money you are requesting.”
Bring the Right Witnesses
There’s a lot of power in a good witness – just make sure you’re selecting the right one. While you may feel like it’s acceptable to bring in your spouse to talk about what an honest and ethical person you are, the judge won’t see it the same way.
On the other hand, bringing in an employee or witness who interacted with the defendant can be very powerful. The more support you gain from other individuals, the stronger your case will be.
One of the biggest mistakes you can make is appearing unprofessional. Your visual appearance is one of the first things the judge will notice and could have an influence on the verdict.
As a rule of thumb, always take out piercings, cover up tattoos, and dress nicely. What constitutes dressing nicely? Look up pictures or videos of attorneys presenting cases in court and this will give you an idea of what’s appropriate. For men, suits are ideal, but slacks and a dress shirt should be worn at the very minimum. For women, a conservative skirt and blouse or a nice pantsuit is preferred.
Improve Your Odds of Winning
The more you know about small claims court, the process, and the rules, the better your chances are of winning. Think about the aforementioned tips and perform adequate research. As is the case in any aspect of the business, knowledge is power.