Small claims court is basically a self-help court where you can present your evidence and witnesses to the judge. The defendant, the person you're suing, can present the opposing evidence. The judge will decide who is credible and who is not. Your entire case depends on the evidence presented to the judge.
However, before you file your case, you must write a "demand" letter to the defendant, demanding repayment of the monies owed to you. The demand letter is your opportunity to build a paper trail and consolidate your evidence into a concise statement of facts.
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Gather your evidence. Before writing the demand letter, put all your evidence together in a file. The contract, receipts, correspondence, e-mails, text messages, calendar of events--all are evidence to include in your file.
Write the letter in basic business style. State the reason for the letter in the first paragraph. You are demanding payment for monies owed to you.
Give the reason why money is owed to you in the second paragraph. For example, you are owed payment for work performed. This is your opportunity to lay out the basic evidence for the defendant and the judge. If the contract was an oral agreement, the letter builds your paper trail.
Give a deadline for payment before you pursue further legal action in the third paragraph. Deadlines are normally 10 to 14 days after receipt of the letter. Include your contact information in this paragraph.
Review the letter carefully. Use the spelling and grammar function on your computer. Also ask a friend or co-worker to read the letter. If it doesn't make sense to him, revise the letter.
Write The Letter
Sign the letter and prepare for mailing. Make three copies of the demand letter. Mail the original by certified mail with return receipt. Mail a second copy with delivery confirmation. Keep the third copy in your evidence file.
Wait for a response. If you don't receive payment by the deadline, file in small claims court.
Go to court. If the defendant claims that he did not receive the letter, provide the unopened certified letter that the post office returned to you, the receipt for the delivery confirmation and the printout from the post office website showing that the letter was delivered to the defendant's address.
After You Write The Demand Letter
Tips and warnings
- Keep the letter simple, straightforward and polite.
- Do not open the certified letter if it is returned to you. Put it in your file with the rest of your evidence.
- Don't forget that the judge will look at this letter. Rudeness, threats, or profanity will make a poor impression on the judge.
- Every state's small claims court is different. Look up your state online and follow the rules for your local small claims court.
- Small claims court limits vary by state. For example, in California the limit is £4,875. However, in Kentucky the limit is £975. Don't ask for more than your state's dollar limit.
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