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Small claims

Cases that are $8,000 USD or less are considered "small claims" within the jurisdiction of the county courts and have special rules for efficiency and expeditiousness. 

Examples of small claims: 

  • Your car was damaged and the person responsible will not pay for repairs in full 

  • Your new TV does not work and the store will not repair it 

  • Your friend or neighbor will not pay back the money you loaned them 

  • The landlord will not give you time to pay back rent owed and threatens an eviction notice 

  • The landlord wants to evict you for a non-smoking room in a sublease apartment 

  • Your tenant damaged your property in a sublease apartment and is forcing all occupants to split the cost of repairs 

  • The store owner threats to sue for catching the neighbors stealing from their small business 

In many cases it is best to use mediation services to resolve eviction disputes or other debt collection issues. Other issues mentioned above like property damage matters and breach of contract disputes can also be negotiated through mediation tactics. Small claims mediation is generally free to the disputants, while mediators for county court cases above small claims often charge a fee. In small claims mediation, an attorney can appear before a party and has full authority to settle without further consultation. It is important to pick legal counsel that you trust to make the right decisions for your small claims case. 

How do you win a small claims dispute?  What are your defenses? 

  • Improper Service of Process - This can be mailing or delivering the statement of debt to the wrong address, or not naming the you properly. If you ignore the mailing because it looked improper then you could have sanctions filed against you resulting in the seizure of your property. 

  • Venue - You could have a dispute in the wrong court and this can delay the case or have the plaintiff drop the case against you. Traveling to another county to resolve the dispute should be brought up before the mediation or at your first appearance. 

  • Denial - The claim and all exhibits could be false. Times, dates, venue, and amounts could be wrong therefore the important aspects of the claim is untrue and you can win this dispute case. 

  • Corporate Registration -The plaintiff is a corporation and must be in current registration to maintain a suit. If the corporation is not current it might be too much money to register and start the case again. If the corporation is current then you may only delay the case and should be prepared to negotiate new tactics. 

  • Nonresident Bond - The disputant may not be a resident of Florida and you can mention this which could buy you sometime. You can renegotiate terms that work around the interstate dispute. 

  • Fictitious Names - the plaintiff is using a fictitious name that is not registered, then he may not file a dispute against. 

  • Res Judicata - The case has already been decided. There can only be one case on each single controversy. If the landlord pre-suit mediation or sues for an eviction, they can not bring a new case that you violated the lease for damages. The eviction case should have a counterclaim in the original eviction suit. 

  • Lack of Consideration - Promises to make gifts are not enforceable. A promise to pay someone and not get anything in return is not enforceable. An example could be if you agreed to pay $5000 for a diamond engagement ring and signed a promissory note to the online seller, then discovered the stone was glass. You can avoid paying the seller because it was fraud or mutual mistake defenses. However, if you took a loan out to pay the $5000 for the fake diamond ring, you still owe the bank regardless of the fraud for the ring because the bank is not responsible for the condition of the item you bought. In these unfortunate cases, you should discuss your options with legal counsel or the bank loan officer. 

  • Statute of Frauds - Certain agreements are not enforceable if they are not in writing. Other instances of fraud could be (sales of any interest in real estate, leases of real estate of over one year, guarantees of debts of another person, guarantee by administrator of debts of an estate, subscriptions to new papers and periodicals, sales of goods over $500, sales of certain personal property like royalty rights or contract rights over $5000, transfers of security interests, agreements which take longer than one year to complete, sales of securities, guarantees by physicians, osteopaths, chiropractors or dentists for certain results)

  • Minors - an agreement entered by a minor is not enforceable in court. For instance, if your minor signs an agreement to buy a car it would not be enforceable, but if they signed a check or credit for food it would be. This is because the minor has a necessity for food and there is not a necessity for a vehicle. 

  • Payment - If you already paid the money claimed to be owed it would be in a defense to the claim. If the claim was credited to the wrong account or not credited at all. You must show receipt of payment, bill statement paid or a cancelled check.

  • Accord & Satisfaction - If a debt is in dispute and the parties agree to a settlement, of 50 % of the debt to settle the dispute. Yet the party claims the entire amount in a suite, the settlement agreement would be a defense because it should be in writing (accord and satisfaction), even if it is not, it can be enforceable. 

  • Payment after a Suit is filed - if the court costs in addition to the money owed is in dispute then the defendant can pay what they think is owed to the registry of the court. If the settlement agreement is not for a greater amount then the defendant won't have to pay the court costs. 

  • Statute of limitations - Laws of every state give time limits on how long claims can be brought. After a time period the claim will not be allowed because the person waited too long to file a suit. In actions for a collection dispute or actions based on a written agreement have a time limit that can expire before the defendant is actually liable of payment. 

  • Fraud or Misrepresentation - If you were defrauded in a transaction, or important facts were misrepresented to you, you may have a valid defense. For instance, if you were subject to an online payment or in store payment and the person who signed the purchase stole your product. You never had possession of the product, never used the product, or made any money from the sell of the product, you may not be liable for this product payment. You will need to report your stolen product to law enforcement and make a case. Then dispute the payment charges with the company dispute resolution services personnel. File all related documents needed to write off the charges in full. 

  • Mistake or Error - Both parties were mistaken about an agreement that they entered into and can be voided. For instance, if the parties were to sign a sublease apartment agreement that included two rooms in a four -four apartment but the original price offered to the parties increased due to high speed internet, utilities included, rental insurance, management fees and security deposit. The parties could void the leasing agreement due to the insufficient funds needed to cover the initial payment charges. 

  • Breach of Contract - This is because the plaintiff did not fulfil the their side of the agreement. If you hire someone to food service cater a business event and they provide inadequate food service, you can argue that they breached their contact. They exhibited an unprofessional conduct and unprofessional food quality. 

  • Implied Warranties - The law implies that businesses transactions must have a warranty and can legally sell goods and services that function, and fulfill their purpose. If the business sells goods or services that do not function or fulfill their purpose, you have a case that must be proven through exhibition. 

  • Usury - If you were loaned money at an annual interest rate of over 15% per year, there may have been a violation of the usury laws. In this case, you took a loan with an high amount of interest rate and you would be required to pay back the principle without interest. You may have a strong case in this instance if you can show that the interest rate is a clear violation of the usury. In extreme cases of 45% the loan lender pay have to pay you a penalty because it was set at a higher rate that in the Florida Statutes.

  • Arbitration - Can be seen in many unions and is often a area that collective bargaining agreements can be won. If the union workers enter in a contract agreement and eye care is not included in their employee benefits then arbitration would be an useful tool to gain new eye care benefits. 

  • Duress - If an agreement or transaction is made under duress their it may not be enforceable for the party to pay. For example, if someone confronts you with a gun and says "sign go buy these products for me or I will shoot you," you could stop the payment of credit by talking to the creditor. In unfortunate cases, the person gets away will stealing you product or and credit line. You must work it out with the dispute creditor or hire an attorney to file a criminal lawsuit against them.  

  • Illegality - Agreements that are illegal cannot be enforced in court. If you pay someone through online payment (Cashapp, Venmo, ApplePay) and they don't give you any illegal drugs, prostitution, or illegal gambling, the court will not help you get the money back. You should seek out a law enforcement case and legal services to get your money back. 

  • License - People can give up their right to sue if they agree to a written or implied license to the other person. For instance, if you agree to give blood to a blood donation organization in the field of cancer research, you gave them the authority to take blood from your body for testing. The organization may also require you to sign a waiver of the right to sue for blood taking and testing.

  • Waiver - Restaurants, bars, social clubs, and other groups that hold contest or ride attractions usually require all participants to sign waivers of their right to sue. Many county fairs and amusement parks have this information included before purchasing an online ticket or at the time of sales. 

  • Release - If the landlord releases a tenant from the last 6 months of their rent and both parties sign the agreement it is enforceable. The tenant might have overpaid their last month of rent and still has the original security deposit and last month's rent for a 12 month cycle. However, in the writing on the release from a 12 month rent to a 6 month rental the plaintiff might not have the ability to claim the security deposit and last month's rent. You may need to seek legal counsel for the claims and opportunities to get your money back. 

  • Documentary Tax Stamps - If the documentary stamp tax has not been paid on a promissory note, the court will not enforce it. The suit will be dismissed or the judge will allow the suit to be refiled after buying the documentary stamps. 

  • Sales of Goods - The sale of goods are not always final sales and can be returned or refunded. In many cases, if the buyer gains a product that was not as advertised. You can file a dispute for refunding the money or gaining the product like it was advertised. 

  • Bankruptcy - If a person files for liquidation bankruptcy, the debts can be wiped out and completely discharged forever. All actions against the person and his property must stop if the defendant files bankruptcy. Reorganization bankruptcy, the debts will not be wiped out by the court will approve a new schedule for payment. And a creditor may not take any actions against the debtor while they are in bankruptcy. 

In these examples of winnable small claims cases, you can achieve your intended goals if you work diligently and with the assistant with a mediator or lawyer. 

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