Small claims actions are civil lawsuits brought against a person, group or company. They are designed to reach a resolution quickly and relatively inexpensively, as neither plaintiff nor defendant needs a solicitor. Actions are generally brought by people seeking recompense for faulty goods, poor workmanship, damage to property and unpaid rent or wages. In Scotland these actions are dealt with by the sheriff courts.
Small claims actions can be pursued only in uncomplicated cases in which the value being sought is no more than £3,000. This limit is applicable to goods being sought in recompense, as well as money being claimed. Actions should be brought only when no alternative resolution to the dispute is available. The case will be dealt with by the sheriff court that is closest to the area where the problem occurred. For instance, if a claim results from a road traffic accident, the court nearest the scene of the crash will hear the case.
The first step in bringing a small claims action is applying for a summons. In the summons, the plaintiff must give information about all the parties involved in the claim, how much is being claimed and details of the incident from which the claim arose. The plaintiff also fills out a copy summons that is sent to the defendant. The summons and copy summons are sent to the sheriff court along with a court fee, which varies in accordance with the value of the claim. The copy summons is then sent to the defendant along with notice of a hearing date.
If the defendant does not respond in any way to the summons, the plaintiff automatically wins the action and must be paid the full claim amount. The same result arises from the defendant admitting liability in the action. Parties facing a claim can also admit culpability, but they ask for more time to pay or offer partial payment. In this scenario, it is up to the plaintiff to decide to accept the offer or not. If the plaintiff rejects it, the two parties must attend the hearing at the sheriff court. Finally, the defendant can deny the claim or challenge the court's right to hear the action, resulting in both parties appearing in court.
Both the plaintiff and the defendant must attend court on the hearing date if the action remains unresolved. Solicitors are not necessary, but both parties can ask a friend or relative to represent them. Most cases will be settled in one hearing, with the sheriff handing down a decree in favour of one side or the other. Appeals can be made only on a point of law. If the claim is awarded but the defendant still refuses to pay, the plaintiff can return to the court to have the decree enforced.