Preparing For The Trial

The trial in the small claims court is between the plaintiff and the defendant. No attorneys are allowed to represent either party except in certain cases where advance permission is obtained from the judge. Both parties must prepare their case and bring those witnesses or other evidence (such as documents, records, photographs, or drawings) to court to support their claim or defense. Witnesses must have personal knowledge of the facts they are asked to testify about. Documents, records, photographs, and/or drawings must be identified and explained by a person with personal knowledge of them.

If any of the parties are unfamiliar with small claims court procedure, it may be a good idea to sit through a small claims court session before the hearing to learn firsthand how small claims cases are heard.

Failure to Appear

If the defendant fails to appear for trial, the plaintiff will be granted a default judgment for the amount of the claim, plus costs, provided the plaintiff can show proof of service. If the plaintiff fails to appear in court, the case is dismissed; however, the court will generally permit the plaintiff to start over if good cause for the non-appearance is shown.

What Happens At The Trial

When you arrive at the court, report to the courtroom in which your case has been assigned. When your case is called in the courtroom, come forward to the counsel table and the judge will swear in all the parties and witnesses.

Don't be nervous - remember that a trial in small claims court is informal. The judge will ask the plaintiff to give his or her side first, then will ask the defendant for his or her explanation. Be brief and stick to the facts. The judge may interrupt you with questions, which you should answer straight out and to the best of your knowledge.

Be polite - do not interrupt - not just to the judge but also to your opponent. Whatever happens, keep your temper. Good manners and even tempers help the fair, efficient conduct of the trial, and make a good impression.

Decision Announced

After both sides have been heard, the judge will normally announce the decision in court, and may sign and hand the parties a judgment. A judge may also take a matter under advisement and enter a written decision.