Small-claims courts allow individuals to file lawsuits on their own, or pro se, without an attorney. In Mississippi, small-claims courts are referred to as justice courts. The courts can award a maximum of $3,500, and the statute of limitations for most claims is three years. Thus, you must file the lawsuit within three years of when the incident, be it property damage, injury or contract breach, occurred.
To start the process, complete and file a declaration and affidavit -- a one-page form available online. In Hinds County, the fee for one defendant is $64 plus $10 for each additional defendant. The form asks for your name, address and phone number along with the defendant's information. Proper addresses are very important, as the court serves defendants at their place of residence or business.
You also must disclose the amount owed and reason why you believe the defendant owes you money. Avoid overinflating the amount of damages. The court will only award you the amount you successfully prove. You can file a claim that involves more than $3,500, yet only recover that limit, thereby waiving the rest.
Upon filing the affidavit, you will receive a hearing date during which you must prove your case. Make sure that you attend the hearing or your case will be dismissed. Gather as much evidence as possible that relates to the case, such as canceled checks, photographs, contracts, receipts and estimates. For instance, if you are suing your contractor for unfinished work, then bring pictures so the judge can see the property before and after the work began. Also bring proof that you paid the contractor and any written agreement.
You can obtain estimates from other contractors to demonstrate the cost of completing the project correctly. Consider everything the defendant might argue, perhaps that he is not at fault because he finished the work, or that you caused the damage.
After you prove your case and win in court, the next hurdle involves recovering payment from the defendant. You should contact the defendant in writing via certified mail to request payment. Make a copy of the letter and retain evidence that you used certified mail. If the defendant has not paid, then contact the local circuit court so that the judgment can be entered into court records. Afterward, seek a writ of execution so that you can garnish the defendant's wages or collect against personal property, such as real estate, cars and boats. You can hire a collection agency or an attorney to help you collect the judgment.
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