Appealing a Small Claims Court Decision

It is rare that a small claims court decision is appealed, though it does happen under limited circumstances. Typically, the courts allow only the defendant to appeal, and do not give that option to the plaintiff if he or she loses the case. The statute of limitations on small claims court appeals is usually between twenty and thirty days, and only when there has been a mistake of law.

If you are considering appealing a small claims court decision, make sure that your actions are justified. Often, the expense and time necessary for an appeal is not worth the money you may recoup. Also, small claims cases are usually filed because of principle, and not because of the monetary value.

An appeal of a small claims court decision progresses very much like the original court case. The judge will hear both sides of the argument, and both parties will be required to present evidence again. On appeal, the judge will be of a higher court, though the same type atmosphere will be granted.

In small claims court appeals, both the plaintiff and the defendant will be allowed to hire an attorney since the case will be heard in a higher court. Although the presence of an attorney is not required, it is definitely advisable to give your case the best chance possible of succeeding.

If you do decide to appeal without an attorney, visit your local appeals court and sit in on a few cases to understand the format. Being prepared for your appeal could very well mean the difference between success and failure.

Some small claims court appeals will grant the prevailing party their court costs and attorney’s fees, while others will not. It is important to show evidence that the original verdict was incorrect, which will probably earn your court and attorney fees back once the judge rules in your favor.

As a general rule, you should be twice as prepared for your appeal as you were for the original small claims court case. Collecting additional evidence, speaking to more witnesses and preparing your statements in a logical fashion is imperative. Judges are typically not sympathetic to plaintiffs who waste their time, and may rule against you out of sheer annoyance.

Following are a few examples of states’ laws concerning the appeal of small claims court decisions:

CA Appeals can be filed by defendants only, except in the case of legal or clerical error.

MA: Only the defendant can appeal, and it must be filed within 10 days of the original verdict.

NY: Appeals may be filed within 30 days of the verdict, and only when “sufficient justice” was not received.

SD: No appeals on small claims court cases, unless dismissed without prejudice.

TX: Either party can appeal within 30 days of verdict.

VT: Either party can appeal within 30 days of the verdict as long as a legal mistake was made.

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