Justice Court – In, Out & In Between – Part I
Justice court, formerly known as small claims court in Texas, is a low cost, simple and speedy litigation process for individuals and companies to pursue legal claims for monetary damages. Although the court only resolves small disputes, a party must still be aware of the ins and outs of litigating in justice court.
Who can file a claim in justice court? Any person over the age of 18 or a corporate plaintiff may file suit in justice court. A corporate plaintiff may find justice court advantageous because it can sue for small debts without the need for attorney representation, which is required in other courts. A plaintiff may sue for monetary damages up to $10,000 or the recovery of specific property. If the damages are more than $10,000, or if they are non-monetary (e.g., an order from the court determining title to real property or an order to stop someone from doing something), then justice court is not the proper place to bring suit and you should consult an attorney.
What if someone is sued in justice court? The most important tip for anyone involved in a suit is to read all the court paperwork, including the citation. In justice court, a defendant must file an answer within two weeks of being served with the citation. An answer should be in writing and filed with the court. A copy should also be mailed to the plaintiff. After an answer is filed, the parties will be notified by the court of a trial date.
Is there an opportunity to settle the case before trial? Yes. In the Texas judicial system, courts generally prefer for the parties to try to work out a resolution before the trial. Parties to a dispute can work out the disagreement informally or formally; they can talk to each other directly or through a third-party mediator. The parties can settle the case with each other any time before or during the lawsuit. Settlement is not an admission of guilt, but rather an opportunity for both parties to come to an agreement that does not require court intervention. Some courts require the parties attend mediation before trial. At mediation, a neutral third party will assist the parties in negotiating an agreement, but the mediator will not make any determination about the case or force either party to settle.