As you probably heard last week, Judge Joseph Wapner from the famed “The People’s Court” TV show died last week. I remember growing up in the 80’s watching Judge Wapner hear the small claims court case and render a decision, with the litigants then being interviewed by Doug Llewlyn afterwards. In his honor, I thought I would blog today about handling a small claims court case in Philadelphia involving a car accident or other lawsuit. Small claims court in Philadelphia is handled by the Philadelphia Municipal Court for cases generally involving less than $12,000 being claimed. The Philadelphia Municipal Court has a good pamphlet on the basics of filing a small court claim, which is the general basis of this blog. There are 5 general steps to take in order to handle a small claims court case in Philadelphia:
You cannot file a small claims court case in Philadelphia Municipal Court if you claim damages over $12,000. For example, if you were in a car wreck in Philadelphia because another driver failed to yield and you had the right of way, you may want to bring an action in small claims court if the driver who caused the accident will not pay because they are an uninsured driver in Philadelphia or they refuse to report it to their insurance company. However, I would never recommend someone who was injured in a car accident in Philadelphia to file a small claims court case because if you have been injured, your case may well be worth more than $12,000 and you should call an experienced personal injury lawyer in Philadelphia like the Pearce Law Firm. However, if you have just small damage on your car and there were no injuries, this might be a good option. Another type of case that might be appropriate for small claims court would be a breach of contract or property damage where no one is physically injured.
You must find out the correct name and address of the Defendant (the person you are filing the lawsuit against). It cannot be a PO Box. In order to file in Philadelphia, generally the Defendant must live in Philadelphia or the accident or “occurrence” happened in Philadelphia. For example, if you are suing because of a car accident, you may file a small claims lawsuit in Philadelphia if the car accident happened in Philadelphia or the Defendant lives in Philadelphia. If you are suing about a contract, you may sue in Philadelphia if the contract was signed in Philadelphia or the Defendant lives in Philadelphia. If you are suing a company, make sure you have the correct name and address of the company. For assistance with locating the correct name and address of a Pennsylvania business, you should search for the correct name on the Pennsylvania’s Corporation Bureau website or call them at 717-787-1057.
You need to put together all of the documents you need to prove your case. You need to provide these documents to the Defendant before the trial and sometimes you should attach them to your claim or complaint you file. Some examples of documents you may need include: correspondence between you and the party you are suing; documents such as photographs, diagrams, invoices, contracts and cancelled checks; and estimates of the value of damaged property and bills and estimates setting forth the cost to repair or replace damaged property.
In Philadelphia, you must file your small claims court case in person (not by mail) by going to the court’s first filing office on the 10th floor of 1339 Chestnut Street in Philadelphia. The Philadelphia court has interviewers to assist you in filling out the paper work. However, the interviewers are not allowed to provide legal advice. Also, there is a filing fee and a charge to serve the legal papers on the defendant. The Philadelphia Municipal Court (small claims court) can be reached at (215) 686-2910 to find out these current costs as they do change periodically.
If you do not show up for Court on time, your claim may be dismissed. If both parties show up, the parties will be given a chance to settle their case with or without the Court’s mediation program. If the parties cannot reach a settlement, the case will go to trial before a judge. The Philadelphia Municipal Court pamphlet suggests you handle yourself in court before the Judge appropriately by: (1) being polite and maintaining your composure; direct your questions and comments to the judge and not the other party unless the judge allows you to ask questions; and do not interrupt the judge or the other party as you will have your chance to explain your case. At the end of the trial, the judge may render a decision immediately, or you may receive the decision in the mail.
In short, if your case does NOT involve a personal injury in Philadelphia but rather only involves damages to property and the property damages are less than $12,000, you may want to file your lawsuit in small claims court. However, if you have suffered an injury and require medical attention, it is always smart to at least consult a Philadelphia Personal Injury Lawyer like The Pearce Law Firm before trying to handle a case yourself. We are here to help you.