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A small claims defendant is one who is being sued in small claims court by a plaintiff. Laws typically require the plaintiff to serve a Plaintiff’s Claim on the defendant, which is a copy of the complaint and an order to the defendant to appear for a court hearing. Defendants often have to appear at the court hearing to avoid having the case decided without them or to avoid losing the case by default. A defendant can ask the court to dismiss the case, and if the request is denied, the defendant may raise legal defenses to try to win the case. If the plaintiff is liable to the defendant for damages, the defendant can counter sue by filing a Defendant’s Claim.
The first response of the small claims defendant after receiving a Plaintiff’s Claim is often to file an "Answer" on or before the date specified. The "Answer" is the defendant’s opportunity to deny the claims brought against him by the plaintiff. It does not often include legal defenses or detailed explanations, but rather a “Yes” or “No” to the claims, with brief specifics when necessary. Courts may enter a judgment against the defendant if "No" response is filed. A small claims defendant may then try to settle the case with plaintiffs to avoid a court hearing. If both agree to settle the case, then the parties will put the settlement in writing, sign it and submit it to the court prior to or on the day of trial.
Some jurisdictions require the parties in small claims court to attend mediation prior to a trial. In jurisdictions where mediation is not mandatory, small claims defendants often try mediation when they need the help of a third party to reach a settlement. Mediation is the process by which an unbiased third party, a mediator, tries to facilitate a compromise between the plaintiff and the defendant. Some courts provide mediation services, but there are often for-profit and non-profit mediation services available to the parties as well. Many parties are able to avoid a hearing with the help of mediation, but if a settlement is not reached, then the defendant has to prepare to defend himself in a court hearing.
A small claims judge will often hear the countersuit or the Defendant’s Claim in the same hearing. The small claims defendant has an opportunity to sue the plaintiff for damages, but the Defendant’s Claim should not be used to raise legal defenses. Many jurisdictions require the defendant to counter sue in the same case, or else lose the right to sue the plaintiff later.
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