Questions Answered About Small Claims Court

Confused about Small Claims Court? Thom Goolsby has the answers you need.

1. What is Small Claims Court?

Small Claims Court is part of the North Carolina court system where people settle disputes regarding property or money worth $5,000 or less. Every county in North Carolina has a Small Claims Court, which is sometimes called Magistrate's Court. The judge called a magistrate, may or may not be a lawyer. There is no jury. The trial is quick and informal, usually lasting no more than 15 or 30 minutes. You don't have to have a lawyer to represent you in Small Claims Court, but you may have a lawyer. The person who starts the lawsuit is the plaintiff. The person being sued is called the defendant.

2. What type of cases are heard in Small Claims Court?

In the three cases below, you would be the plaintiff:

  • A repairman came to fix your refrigerator and in the process knocked a hole in your kitchen wall. The repair shop won't pay for the damages, so you sue the shop for your loss.
  • Someone dents your car but refuses to pay for the damage, so you sue that person.
  • Your landlord refuses to make your home or apartment meet housing codes, and you sue for damages, repairs, or lower rent.

You would be the defendant in these three cases:

  • Your landlord tries to evict you from your apartment and collect back rent.
  • A finance company sues you for money it claims you owe on a loan.
  • A finance company sues you for possession of property which you pledged as collateral for a loan.

3. What Can You Not Do in Small Claims Court?

This court is not used for criminal offenses, traffic tickets, or disagreements over child support, among other things. You have to be 18 years old to use Small Claims Court.

4. Do You Need a Lawyer?

Before you decide to handle your own case in Small Claims Court, you need to think about whether you need a lawyer.

If you are facing eviction by your landlord or being sued by a finance company, you may need a lawyer. If your income is no more than 125 percent of the poverty level, you may be eligible to get free legal assistance from the Legal Services office nearest you.

You may want to call a Legal Services office to find out if a lawyer can help you with your case.

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