How Do I Collect if I Win a Small Claims Judgment?

In recent posts, we’ve discussed some of the issues involved with small claims court in Connecticut. As these posts have shown, small claims court can be a viable option for certain plaintiffs, though not for all. If you have a relatively simple case and the amount you’re seeking doesn’t exceed $5,000, small claims court may be a good choice. If you decide to pursue your matter in small claims court in Connecticut, and you win your case, you must then deal with the next issue: collecting your judgment. Contrary to what some may suppose, the small claims court isn’t responsible for collecting the judgment you win. Although the court can assist with collection in some ways, you are ultimately responsible for seeing that you receive the payment.

Once a judgment is entered, the court will order the individual that lost the case (the judgment debtor) to make periodic payments to the person who won the case. If the judgment debtor is a business or landlord, no periodic payments will be ordered, the full amount of the judgment is due. If the person fails to make the required payments as ordered, there are several options available for collecting your small claims court judgment. Any one of these options may be the correct one; everything ultimately depends on the precise nature of your situation.

Option #1: File an Application for Execution

An execution is a legal hold on someone’s property so it cannot be sold or used. It is important to note that an execution will not be issued if the judgment debtor is making the periodic payments required by the court. But if not, then there are three types of executions:

  1. A wage execution can be used against a person who has a job if that person is not self-employed. You must find out where the debtor works.
  2. A property execution attaches the personal property, not real property, to pay the judgment. You must know where the property is kept.
  3. Financial institution executions attach certain accounts at banks, credit unions, or other financial institutions. You must find out where the account is located.

There is an additional fee associated with applying for an execution. You must do your homework or hire someone that can help you, the court cannot do it for you. You must then follow the proper procedure for serving the execution. Failure to follow proper procedure can be fatal to enforcing it.

Option#2: Hire a Debt Collection Agency

Another option is to hire a debt collection agency. A debt collection agency is a company which specializes in pursuing debts from individuals or corporations. One plus about hiring such a company is that this type of company will have experienced professionals who possess skills in the area of debt collection. The company will have people who know how to communicate with debtors and arrange payment. Collection agencies will be able to easily contact credit bureaus in the event that a debtor refuses to pay; this will increase the likelihood that the debt is paid. The downside is that, if you hire such a company, you will likely only receive a certain percentage of your judgment, as you will need to pay for the services of the collection agency.

Option #3: Collect the Judgment Independently

The other option you have is to collect the judgment yourself. You can contact the debtor yourself personally and try to obtain the full judgment, or work out a payment plan. This is where the court can be of assistance: if you make a request, the court may be able to help you create a payment plan for the debtor. This isn’t the same as obtaining a seizure of property order or a wage garnishment; it is simply the court stepping in and offering assistance. Most people don’t want to have a blotch on their credit report, and so most debtors will be willing to work with you directly to get the judgment paid off. If, however, the debtor isn’t responsive, you may need to turn to one of the other options.

Contact the Apex Law Firm for Additional Information

Winning in small claims court is enough work on its own, but, as we can see, collecting the judgment can also be a challenge as well. If you’re heading to small claims court in the near future, or if you’d like more information, give Apex Law Firm a call today at 860-900-0900. We can help you navigate both the court process and then the collection process in a hassle-free, straightforward fashion.

Overview of the Small Claims Procedure

Through television and other media, small claims court is actually something which most Americans are familiar with. However, for most people, the familiarity only extends to a few basic points and not any kind of deeper understanding. Connecticut dwellers should become acquainted with the ins and outs of small claims court in this great state because this type of court can be very useful in many situations. Let’s explore a few of the essential facts regarding small claims court in Connecticut.

Monetary Limit & Venue Selection in CT

In the State of Connecticut, small claims courts have a monetary limit of $5,000, which means that this is the maximum amount which can be awarded in a given case. The reason for this is because small claims courts are designed to provide expedited results. In Connecticut, no juries are ever present in small claims courts, and so this allows the process to proceed much more quickly. Litigants simply present their case to the judge, and a decision is issued rapidly. If a litigant wishes to extract an award greater than $5,000, he or she must pursue a different court. This is actually one of the more well-known facts about small claims court; most people are aware of the maximum award limit through television.

Small claims courts also follow the same venue selection rules as other courts in Connecticut. This means that, to hear a case, the small claims court must have personal jurisdiction over the defendant. Basically, this means that the defendant must either reside in the location of the court, or the injury must have occurred in the location of the court. Again, this follows the same pattern as other courts in the state (and throughout the country).

Complaint Deadlines and Attorney Representation

Small claims courts also follow the same statute of limitations complaint deadlines as other courts. In other words, if the statute of limitations for your claim has passed, this applies to small claims courts just as it applies to other courts too. The statute of limitations to file is different for different types of claims, so be sure that you know which rule applies to your claim. For property damage and personal injury cases, the SOL is 2 years, for oral contracts it is 3 years, and for written contracts it is 6 years.

You have the right to be represented by an attorney in small claims court, just as you have in other courts in Connecticut. Corporations involved in small claims disputes must be represented by an attorney.

Default Judgments, Collections & Assorted Facts

If you receive a notice to appear in small claims court to dispute a claim, it is imperative that you respond and make an appearance. You need to show up and dispute the claim, no matter how potentially frivolous, because otherwise you could face a default judgment against you. In other words, you could end up losing the case automatically if you fail to appear, even if you have a potentially viable defense. If you make a claim and succeed, the court will not assist you in collecting the award. This is an important point to keep in mind, because you need to think about the collection potential before you go through with the suit. You don’t want to pursue the matter all the way through small claims court and then have no reasonable expectation to actually collect.

Due to its relatively simple nature, small claims court is ideal for certain types of cases, including cases involving back rent, broken or damaged personal property, car accidents, and so forth. The evidence rules are much simpler, which makes the burden for claimants easier to deal with. There is no transcript of the proceedings, and claimants do not have the right to appeal the decision. This is another important point to keep in mind: the decision is final, and so be fully prepared before you bring the matter to court.

Reach Out to Learn More

This provides a good overview of the small claims court process here in the State of Connecticut. In the future, we may come back and dive into this further, but this is a good introduction. If you’d like to learn more, or if you have a case for small claims court, reach out to the Apex Law Firm today at 860-900-0900.

Should I Represent Myself in Small Claims Court?

In an earlier post, we discussed some of the essentials of the small claims court procedure here in the State of Connecticut. For instance, we covered such things as the maximum award ($5,000) the types of claims which are typically heard in small claims courts. We briefly mentioned the fact that, for individuals, claimants have the option to use an attorney, but attorney representation is not required. If you have a claim which you’re thinking about bringing to small claims court in Connecticut, you should ponder the question: should I represent myself, or hire an attorney?

As with so many things, a real answer can only be given when we know all the relevant facts and circumstances of a given case. However, there are a few things which you mull over whenever you consider hiring an attorney for small claims court. Let’s explore this issue in detail.

Attorneys Can Help with Preparation

One of the big benefits of hiring an attorney is the fact that attorneys can help immensely with the preparation process. Even though the burden of preparation is lower for small claims courts, you still will need to do a fair amount of preparatory work if you want to be successful. For instance, an attorney can help you learn the statutes which apply to your case (i.e. for contracts, torts, etc.), and also help you build the evidence and arguments which you will use to present to the judge.

Your attorney will have experience in handling cases similar to yours, and can counsel you on the relative weight of certain evidence, how to prepare evidence for court, the evidentiary hurdles you will need to meet, and so forth. Your attorney can also counsel you on other legal issues involved in your case, such as proper venue selection. If you go solo, you will be required to do everything on your own, and this can translate into many hours of work. The last thing you want is to put many hours into your case and then come up empty-handed.

The Financial Aspect of Using an Attorney

This is the obvious drawback of hiring an attorney. Unless your attorney is working pro bono, or is inexplicably charitable, you will need to spend money to retain his or her services. In small claims court cases, most attorneys will work on a flat rate schedule or hourly schedule, rather than on a contingency basis. This makes intuitive sense, because the stakes involved in small claims cases are necessarily lower than other cases.

But, even though you will most likely need to devote financial resources on an attorney, this can end up being very worthwhile in the long run. Not only will an attorney make the process easier, hiring an attorney also means you have a higher likelihood of success altogether. If you go solo, you take more risk, but also potentially have a greater reward because you didn’t invest in outside counsel. If you hire an attorney, you are more likely to succeed, but this comes with a cost.

In the end, the decision you make will all depend on the specifics of your case. If you have the resources to invest in an attorney, and you want the best chance of succeeding when you go to small claims court, then you should hire an attorney. If you’d prefer to go alone and take more risk, then perhaps you should represent yourself.

Contact the Apex Law Firm for More Information

Are you thinking about bringing a matter to small claims court here in Connecticut? If so, don’t hesitate to reach out to the Apex Law Firm today for more information. We can listen to your case and give the best recommendation for moving forward. Call us today at 860-900-0900.