Small claims court is a special court where disputes are resolved more quickly and inexpensively than in other court proceedings. The rules in small claims court also are simpler and less formal. The person who sues is called the plaintiff. The person who is sued is called the defendant.
To understand more about small claims matters we recommend you read the Basic Guide to Wisconsin Small Claims Actions. The Guide covers a large number of Frequently Asked Questions.
What kinds of cases go to Small Claims court?The three most common types of small claims cases are:
- Claim for money: civil actions where the amount claimed is $5,000 or less, if the actions or proceedings are:
- For money judgments only, or
- For garnishment of wages.
- Eviction actions: Actions for eviction regardless of the amount of rent claimed.
- Non-consumer credit actions for replevin (return of personal property) if the property claimed does not exceed $5,000, or
- Consumer credit transactions (for return of personal property that was the subject of a lease or credit from a dealer) when the amount financed is $25,000 or less.
Three less common types of small claims cases are:
- Return of earnest money for purchase of real property
- Action on an arbitration award for the purchase of real property
- Eviction action due to foreclosure
Who can sue in Small Claims court?Any mentally competent person who is:
- 18 years or older; OR
- An emancipated child.
Do you have to have an attorney?
Whether to hire an attorney is your decision. Many people feel that they can handle their legal matters without an attorney in small claims court. When you represent yourself in court without an attorney it is called “self-representation” or “pro se.”
Even if you do not intend to hire an attorney to represent you at trial, you may wish to contact an attorney for advice about your legal rights. An attorney may be able to advise you whether you have a valid claim or defense, about the types of evidence you will need to prove it, and may even be able to assist you in settling your case. If you cannot afford an attorney, there are organizations that may be able to assist you.
Court staff may provide general information about court rules, procedures, practices, and terms. Judges, court commissioners, and court staff cannot give you legal advice.
Try to settle first!
To avoid the time and expense of going to court, try to settle the matter first. Contact the other party or their attorney, discuss the situation, and try to solve the problem by an agreement you can both accept. Even after your small claims suit is filed, you may still engage in settlement negotiations with the opposing party. Don’t be reluctant to compromise; even in large civil lawsuits, more than 90% are settled prior to trial.
Free mediation services are available thru the City of Racine Conflict Resolution Center.