How To Sue Someone In Small Claims Court Pennsylvania

How to Sue Someone in Pennsylvania Small Claims Court:

In Pennsylvania, there are no courts specifically designated as “small claims courts.”

Instead, the Small Claims Division of the Magisterial District Courts handles these cases in most parts of the state.

In Philadelphia, the Municipal Courts are responsible for hearing such cases.

In the modern legal landscape, pursuing a case in court has become costly and time-intensive.

Court rules and procedures can be highly intricate, and the period between filing a case and reaching trial can span several years.

 

How To Sue Someone In Small Claims Court Pennsylvania

Given this complexity, most individuals navigating the legal system find it necessary to retain the services of attorneys, which often leads to substantial legal fees.

Small claims courts, however, play a vital role in the judicial system of all states, providing a means for individuals with minor disputes to handle their cases quickly and affordably.

Eligible Cases for Pennsylvania Small Claims:

Cases Ineligible for Small Claims Court:

It’s important to note that small claims court in Pennsylvania only allows for the filing of civil cases seeking monetary damages.

Civil cases differ from criminal cases, as the government initiates criminal cases to impose criminal penalties.

Pennsylvania small claims court cannot handle divorce, child custody, probate cases, or any matters beyond monetary compensation.

As a result, cases suitable for small claims court in other states, such as eviction and property recovery, cannot be pursued in Pennsylvania small claims court.

Typical Small Claims Cases in Pennsylvania:

    • Pennsylvania small claims courts handle cases seeking:
      • Refunds of security deposits.
      • Damages for improper vehicle repair.
      • Refunds of loans.
      • Payment of debts.
      • Damages for breach of contract.
      • Damages resulting from automobile accidents caused by negligence.
  • According to the Philadelphia Municipal Court:

The most commonly heard cases in this court typically revolve around negligence or contract disputes.

Contract cases involve agreements, which can be either written or oral, between multiple parties.

Negligence cases are based on the duty of ordinary citizens to exercise reasonable care to prevent harm to others.

When this duty is breached, leading to damages, the injured party may initiate a claim.

Determining Where to File the Claim:

    • To initiate a lawsuit in Magisterial District Court in Pennsylvania, individuals must consider the appropriate court venue.
    • Magisterial district/municipal courts are accessible in every county, and you can usually locate court addresses online.

      The legal principle that governs the choice of court location is “venue.”

      In general, you should file a lawsuit where:

      • The individual you are suing resides.
      • The business you are suing operates.
      • The claim in question originated, such as the site of a car accident or where the pertinent contract was executed.

Preparing to File the Claim:

    • Prior to filing a claim in Small Claims Court, individuals must gather necessary information, including the complete name and physical street address of the defendant, as post office box addresses are insufficient.
    • For non-individual entities, such as corporations or partnerships, the accurate business name is essential.
    • Assistance can be sought from the Pennsylvania Corporation Bureau at the Pennsylvania Department of State if uncertain about a business name.
    • Various documents are required to present and pursue a claim, so it’s advisable to assemble these documents beforehand, as copies must be provided to the opposing party before the trial.

Document requirements vary based on the nature of the case. For instance:

      • A contract is necessary for contract cases.
      • Correspondence between the parties pertaining to the dispute.
      • A police report is essential in accident cases.
      • Photographs, diagrams, and records.
      • Reports and records from licensed healthcare providers.
      • Bills for drugs, medical devices, and prosthetics.
      • Affidavits from repair professionals detailing repair costs and property value.
      • Affidavits from treating physicians specifying professional service charges.
      • Employer reports regarding earnings, work time loss, or compensation loss.
      • Official weather or traffic signal reports.
    • Generally, in Pennsylvania, the party initiating the case attaches relevant documents to their initial filing, which they intend to use during the trial.
    • If there are pertinent documents not included in the initial filing but to be used in court, they must be sent to the opposing party at least 10 days before the trial.

Timing of the Claim:

    • Every state has specific time limits for commencing legal actions to allow both parties ample time to gather witnesses and evidence.
    • Suing over an incident that occurred two decades ago, for instance, would make it challenging to obtain information and locate witnesses with relevant memories.
    • Statutes of limitations exist in Pennsylvania, setting specific time frames for initiating legal actions, serving as a “window” to file a case within a defined period.

Pennsylvania Statutes of Limitations:

    • Statutes of limitations span various durations, ranging from very short (90 days or less) to several years, particularly for written contract actions.
    • For instance, the statute of limitations for personal injury cases resulting from automobile accidents in Pennsylvania is two years.
    • These time periods generally commence at the time of the injury, such as the accident or the breach of a contract.
    • Claims must be filed within the statute of limitations’ defined time frame; exceeding it forfeits the right to sue.
    • On the defendant’s motion, the court can dismiss the claim entirely as “time-barred.

Filing Small Claims in Pennsylvania:

    • When contemplating filing a small claims court case, it’s advisable to visit the Magisterial District Court in the appropriate county or the Philadelphia Municipal Court in person.
    • Most courts have interviewers available to assist litigants in getting started.
    • In Philadelphia, individuals intending to represent themselves must visit the court and work with an interviewer.
    • In other Pennsylvania counties, parties may choose not to utilize court personnel assistance and can prepare and file a statement of claim by mail.
    • Filing a claim entails completing a straightforward claim form, including the names and addresses of the parties involved and a dispute summary, without the need for legal language.
    • Parties can have a lawyer represent them in Pennsylvania small claims court but must complete and file an authorization form.
    • There is a filing fee, the amount of which varies among counties.

Rules for Serving the Other Side:

    • Upon filing the small court claim, the court clerk schedules a hearing, typically occurring within 12 to 60 days from the complaint’s filing.
    • Before the hearing, the other party must receive a copy of the court papers.
    • Two service methods are available: certified mail with return receipt through the court clerk or delivery by a sheriff or constable.
    • Both service methods entail fees, with the former being more cost-effective.
    • The court clerk provides information on the fees, and it’s advisable to opt for sheriff delivery if the other party is likely to avoid accepting the documents.
    • All fees can be recovered if the plaintiff prevails.

Appearing at the Court Hearing and Presenting the Case:

    • The individual initiating the case must attend the court hearing; failure to do so may result in case dismissal.
    • If the opposing party fails to appear, the court often awards the plaintiff a default judgment.
    • When both parties are present, they have the opportunity to present evidence and argue their case before the judge.
    • The judge may ask questions during the hearing, and the decision may be rendered immediately at the hearing or sent by mail a few days later.

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