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Small claims court is a type of civil court where people can bring lawsuits that ask for a low-value payment of damages, typically, but not always, under $5000 US Dollars (USD). There are many different types of cases that can be brought to small claims court, but the exact issues allowed may vary regionally. It is important to look at the local laws regarding small claims cases before threatening a lawsuit or hiring a lawyer.
Many small claims cases involve landlord/tenant issues. These are common disputes that can be difficult to resolve outside of court, as it's quite easy to start blustering and making threats about evictions, refusing to pay rent, and other unpleasant consequences. In many areas, a tenant can sue a landlord for violating the lease or unfair refusal to return a security deposit. In turn, a landlord can sometimes sue if a tenant has broken a lease and refuses to pay rent until a new tenant is found, or for property damage in excess of the security deposit amount. There are many gray areas in landlord/tenant small claims cases, so legal advice may be a helpful resource.
Some small claims cases handle breach of contract suits that have damage costs under the allowed limit. In a breach of contract case, one party fails to adhere to the terms of a written or oral contract. If, for instance, a gardener is hired and paid in advance for landscaping but does not perform the work, then the property owner could sue in small claims court to have the money returned.
Similar to breach of contract are small claims cases that deal with breach of warranty. This type of suit occurs when a commercial product is falsely advertised, resulting in injury or damage to users. The user can often sue the makers of the product for reparations or medical costs. One example of a breach of warranty suit would be if a consumer correctly used a DVD cleaning product to remove scratches, but the product actually destroyed the DVDs. In this case, the user could be allowed to sue for the replacement of the DVDs as well as for the return of the money spent on the product in the first place.
Personal injury small claims cases are quite interesting, as they may sometimes include additional damage amount for emotional trauma suffered because of an injury. For instance, if a person is attacked by a neighbor's dog that was unsecured, he or she may be able to sue for medical costs. If the plaintiff also claims that he or she has developed a terrible fear of dogs as a result, the court may award damages for this emotional “injury” as well.
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