Small Claims Court

 Small Claims Court-is it true that I can sue anyone for less than $5,000? (Part I)

The Small Claims Court is an informal court where individuals can sue for money damages only, up to $5,000.00. You cannot, however, compel the person or business to fix the damaged item or require the performance of the act promised. Keep in mind your lawsuit can be only for money. There is at least one Small Claims Court in each of the 62 counties in New York State.


This court has also real judges. To have a Judge hear the case, you must make a request in writing within Five (5) days after receipt of the Summons. Otherwise, your case will be heard by an arbitrator.

Anyone over 18 years of age can bring an action in Small Claims Court. If you are younger than 18, your parents or guardian may file the claim for you. Corporations, partnerships, associations, or assignees cannot sue in Small Claims Court, but they can be sued.

If you sue in Small Claims Court, you are the claimant (plaintiff); if you have been sued, you are the defendant. You can sue more than one defendant in the same case if necessary.

If you are sued, and you believe that a third party is responsible for the claim, you may be able to bring that party into the lawsuit as an additional defendant. This will be a third party action you will have against that defendant.

If you choose, you may be represented by an attorney at your own expense, but it is not necessary to have an attorney since Small Claims Court is meant to be a “people’s court” where claims may be tried speedily, informally, and inexpensively. The defendant has the same choice. If there are attorneys on both sides, the case may be transferred to a regular part of the court.

To initiate a small claim, you, or someone on your behalf, must go to the Small Claims Court to file a statement of the claim. You should be prepared to give a brief written statement of the facts that form the basis of your claim. If you are suing on a contract or for property damage, you may claim interest as well as money damages. You should keep in mind that you must sue in a court having Small Claims Court in an area where the defendant lives or works or has a place of business.

You will be required to pay filing fee of $15.00 if your claim is for $1,000 or less and a filing fee of $20.00 if your claim is more than $1,000. The clerk of the court will send a notice of claim to the defendant by both certified mail and ordinary first class mail. The notice of claim tells the defendant when the case will be tried and gives a brief statement of your claim and the amount of money you are seeking. If the copy of the claim sent by ordinary mail is not returned as undeliverable within 21 days, the defendant is presumed to have received notice even if the claim sent by certified mail has not been delivered.

If the notice is not delivered by the post office, the court will set a new trial date and tell you how to arrange for personal service of the notice of claim on the defendant. Personal service may be made by any person (including a friend or a relative) who is 18 years of age or older, except that you or any other party to the action may not serve the notice of claim. If the service of the notice cannot be made upon the defendant within four months of the date when the action was first started, the action will be dismissed without prejudice to your bringing the action at a later time.

The case will be scheduled approximately 8 to 10 weeks from the date you file.

The Small Claims Court is Onondaga County is located at 505 South State Street, Room 130, Syracuse, New York.

You should remember that this article is not intended to provide you with legal advice; it is intended only to provide guidance about your rights in filing a claim with a Small Claims Court. Furthermore, the article is not intended to explain or identify all potential issues that may arise in a small claims court case. Each case is fact-specific and therefore similar may have different outcomes.

I represent individuals in car accidents, workers’ compensation, personal injuries, social security
and immigration. If you have any questions or concerns about any legal issue or your rights, you can call me at (315) 422-5673, send me a fax at (315) 466-5673, or e-mail me at The Law Offices of Jose Perez are located at 120 East Washington Street, Suite 925, Syracuse, New York 13202 and 651 Delaware Avenue, Suite 118, Buffalo, New York 14202. Please look for the second part of this article in the November issue.

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