Information for the Defendant
I am Being Wrongly Sued! What Should I Do?
The best thing to do is to prepare your case. Nothing looks worse than coming to court unprepared. You do not need a lawyer to defend yourself in Small Claims Court although you may choose to hire one. The following should help you think about how to defend yourself in court.
How Should I Prepare?
You should gather any documentation (evidence) to show the Judge or arbitrator that you are not responsible (liable) for the wrong the Claimant is complaining about. A good way to think about evidence is to treat it as the tool for building the steps in your story. The evidence you bring to court illustrates your side of the story. It establishes the proof of your defense. The following items are all acceptable forms of evidence:
- Written contracts
- Canceled checks
- Money orders
- Estimates in writing
- Damaged object(s)
- Articles of clothing
- Other written documents
- Or any such evidence that proves you are not responsible
If you do not have any of the above documents don't fret! Oral evidence (testimony from you or from someone who knows about the case) can also be offered to present your defense. Witnesses provide an acceptable source of evidence that can help you establish proof for your side of the story. A witness can be either someone who has first-hand knowledge of the issues, like a person who witnessed the event, or a specialist that can provide expert testimony. Especially in medical suits, expert testimony is helpful for your defense.
For more information on evidence and witness testimony, review the “Preparing for Trial” article.
Can I Counter Sue?
Yes. As the Defendant, you are entitled to file a counter suit if you believe the person bringing the claim against you owes you money damages. To counter sue in Small Claims Court, your counterclaim cannot exceed $5000.
Note: You may also file a third party action if you are sued and you believe someone else (a third party) is responsible for the claim. Contact the Small Claims Court for more information on starting a third party action.
How Can I Counter Sue?
You file a counterclaim, either by filing a Statement of Claim with the Small Claims Court within 5 days of receiving notice that you are being sued, or when you appear in court on the day of the hearing of the Claimant's claim. Filing a counterclaim in court may result in a postponement of the trial date so that the Claimant has time to prepare a defense. There is a five dollar counterclaim filing fee to be paid to the clerk. There is no separate trial for a counter suit in the Small Claims Court; both cases will be heard during the same trial.
Note: If the counter suit you are filing is for a retaliatory reason or to slow down the judicial process the Judge has the authority to issue a fine or award costs.
What if I Received a Notice of Judgment?
If you have received a Notice of a Default Judgment against you, this means that a claim was brought against you and decided against you because you did not appear in Small Claims Court at the appointed time. If you did not appear because you did not receive the notice of the claim or because you had a legitimate reason why you were unable to appear on the court date, you can have the case reopened so that you may defend yourself. Go to the Small Claims Clerk’s Office in the borough where you were sued, bring the Notice of Default Judgment with you, and tell the clerk that you would like to reopen the case against you.
If you appeared for the trial and lost, you will receive a Notice of Judgment that lists the money you are to pay the Claimant who is now referred to as the judgment creditor. In the notice you, the Defendant, will be listed as the judgment debtor. The judgment creditor will contact you about how payments will be set up. If you receive an information subpoena you must fill it out correctly with any information that is asked of you and return it to the judgment creditor.
An information subpoena is a legal document that directs a person, corporation or other business to provide information about where the judgment debtor’s assets can be found. After you have satisfied or fulfilled the judgment, make sure the judgment creditor has alerted the court that you have paid the judgment. Additionally, you are required to receive a satisfaction of judgment or a satisfaction of execution (if an Enforcement Officer was involved) in writing. To learn more, visit the article on enforcing a judgment here.
Be aware that if you have three or more unpaid judgments against you, the judgment creditor can ask for treble (triple) damages and you will have to pay three times the cost of the original judgment against you.
What if the Claimant is Harassing Me with Frivolous Lawsuits?
If this is not the first time the Claimant has brought a Small Claims lawsuit against you, and especially if he or she has already sued you for the same reason and either won or lost the claim, alert the Judge at your hearing. The Judge can then decide if what the Claimant is doing is harassment. If it is, the Judge can make it more difficult for the Claimant to attempt to sue you again.