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The Defense Of A (Not So) Small Claim

Posted on : June 14, 2015, By:  Tom Kokonowski, Esq.

Small claims court is designed to allow individuals to file civil claims against other people or entities for money damages on “small” issues.

In my experience, the type of cases most frequently seen in small claims court are collection cases on overdue credit cards. It is, therefore, designed to make it easier for people to represent themselves and forgo the expense of an attorney. However, pretty large claims can be decided in small claims court. The limit for damages that are not part of a motor vehicle damage claim is $7,000 (not small for most people).

Recently, I was smartly retained by a new home owner who had dealt with a contractor who was now suing him for $5,000. My client had contacted this contractor to give an estimate on a number of things that my client believed needed fixing or replacing. The contractor went to the house and spent half an hour at the house and later sent him a proposal for the work and the prices for the various items to be worked on.

However, there was one price missing, and my client asked that he be told what that price would be before signing the contract. The price was emailed to him by the contractor’s office but never formalized. The client decided in the interim to not go forward with the most expensive of the items and informed the contractor of that, and that he did wish to proceed with the other items.

Out of nowhere, the client received a bill for the once free estimate. Confused, the client called and asked what that was all about. He was told that he now had to pay for the estimate….unless he agreed to add the most expensive item back onto the original proposal. My client refused. He was then sent an email telling him that he needed to pay the estimate bill or he would be sued for the entire amount of the original proposal (work never even started on anything). Sure enough, he got the small claim against him for $5,000.

We appeared at the hearing and we were able to cross examine the contractor about exactly what he was doing. We argued that under no theory of contract law was this contractor allowed to collect anything. The clerk agreed. Judgment for my client. $0 owed.

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