Anyone experienced with Small Claims Court?

lydia1959August 6, 2002

We're planning on taking our laminate floor installer to Small Claims Court because he didn't seal around the perimeter of our kitchen as required for our 25 year warranty to be valid. Within a week of installation, we already had water damage to a section of the floor due to a small water spill.

We do plan on a short consultation with a lawyer, but I've never been to Small Claims and am looking for advice, tips and general information. Do we need to know the exact amount we are seeking? Should we try to settle beforehand? TIA

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I went once. I sued a towing company that towed my car improperly and broke the fenders. The problem I had was They never acknowledged the situation. They never responded to the summons, didn't appear in court and would pay the judgement. There is a way to garnish a persons wages, but since I was suing the business, they just wouldn't do it. I was able to collect my movey from the university (where I was towed from) Apparently the same company hit a parked car with the car it was towing a few days before I went to them for help. The university held his last check and paid for all damages from that money. I was lucky.

As far as going to court--Don't get anrgy, refer to the jugde as "your honor" Do not slam the installer--Just give the facts. Make eye contact with the judge as you speak. Bring all of your documentation: copie sof letters sent to the company dates and subject of phone conversations, receipt, where it says you need that treatment for your warranty to be valid, pictures of the damage, pictures that show a correct installation job. DO NOT GET AN ATTUTUDE. I know it may be hard but that is key.

You may have better luck getting what you want than I did because they don't want people to know that they did a bad job and were unwilling to comply with a courts judgement. Flooring places depend on a good reputation.

Good luck

    Bookmark   August 6, 2002 at 11:13AM
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Have you tried contacting the installer? Why not give them a chance to make good before taking them to court?

    Bookmark   August 6, 2002 at 9:22PM
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joed ~ I've called the installer twice and he hasn't returned my calls. He did have the rep come out and take pictures the week after we had the problem, but that's the last I've seen of him.

    Bookmark   August 7, 2002 at 9:35AM
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Like rhorho said... Judges want to see documentation. Chances are that this judge knows nothing about hardwood flooring, so you must provide documentation proving every detail of your claims. Remember, every week he sees dozens of cases with people who aren't organized, no evidence, no documentation, and he has to do the best he can to get at the truth of the matter to make a decision about circumstance (like wood flooring) that he knows nothing about. Judges don't want to hear "I said, NO! you said, then I said, NO! then you said, etc." Document and organize everything, from the proposal from the installer detailing what he promised to do, to the invoice stating what he did, to the cancelled check you paid him with, to photos of the floor detailing the damage. Have copies of the flooring manufacturers requirements for the edges to be sealed in order for the warranty to be honored so the judge can see that for a fact (it's not just YOU saying that so as to get out of paying).

Another good thing is to have a respected flooring installer to come in as an expert witness and testify that the floor was not sealed and his opinion as an expert. Privately, you may make a deal with him that if you win this case he will get the job of replacing the flooring; anyway, get a formal quote from him on his Quotation Sheet for the cost of replacing/repairing the flooring and what needs to be done to repair the damage.
Above all, stay calm. You may be boiling inside, but now you are a lawyer and stay objective.

    Bookmark   August 7, 2002 at 11:25AM
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You can also go to your local library. Most have a pamphlet that explains procedures of your local small claims court and exactly what laws apply to your case. These are written to help non-lawyers through what probably is their first court appearance. Also outlines how to collect money if you do win. Hope this helps!

    Bookmark   August 13, 2002 at 11:53AM
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Even if you win, good luck collecting. Bring all your paperwork, be polite, and don't waste time arguing irrelevancies.

    Bookmark   September 5, 2002 at 11:11PM
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I sued South African Airlines in small claims court last year and won. It was a great feeling. After ignoring me for months and not showing up in court, they lost (you don't have to show up to lose). When I sent them the judgement they paid up.

It's very easy. Bring all your paperwork. Hilight important sections. Sue for a specific amount of damages (and not for emotional strain) and include court costs.

Also, it's not as hard to collect as you've read above. Most companies have to be registered with the local/state gov't...probably licensed too. If they refuse to pay a judgement against them, they risk having their business license revoked and other state penalties. Where I sued in NYC, if they don't pay after 30 days, contact the court and they will send an officer to collect...sometimes directly from their bank (if you can get their bank info).

    Bookmark   September 8, 2002 at 9:20PM
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I was wondering: can you bring the seller to small claims court for reimbursement of repairs after a closing?

the woman we purchased our condo from DESTROYED the carpets, which we were not going to replace right away. During the walk-through, she indicated she "just had the carpets shampooed" and had cardboard box tops or some sort of planks down to walk on because they hadn't fully dried. She also had minimum watt bulbs in the light fixtures so it was really dark.

After a week the carpets still hadn't dried and when you stepped on them, water and suds would just come up through the carpet. During the second week, we pulled every single carpet and pad up as by this time, the carpet were STILL wet, AND the musty smell of mold filled the entire unit. We had hughe patches of mold growing on the living and dining room concrete floors.

We had to replace over 800 square feet of carpet, which is quite expensive! We contacted our real estate lawyer, who suggested we contact the seller directly, to see if she could provide us with the name/number of the company who cleaned the carpets. We tried contacting her, but no luck.

The problem is this: we seriously think she cleaned the carpets herself, either taking buckets of water and detergent or the garden hose and spraying the floor...she was seriously THAT mental...I think she should re-imburse us for the amount we spent to replace the carpets which up to that point didn't need to be replaced (cleaned, yes). My husband feels that 1) it's water under the bridge, and 2) since we closed, that means we accepted the condition of the unit.

I'm pretty mad, because she "cleaned" the carpets the day before the closing, not to mention her lawyer pretty much FORCED us to close that week. Would this be a case for small claims court?

Any info would be great!

    Bookmark   September 10, 2002 at 2:47PM
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I'm not certain of this, but I think here in New York the seller has to (by law) give the buyer a disclosure statement listing repairs and known problems. If you received one of those, and it did not list the carpet problem, you probably have grounds to sue.

In any event, you have to find her in order to sue her.

    Bookmark   September 10, 2002 at 11:12PM
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I think your husband may be right. Sure, sellers have to disclose problems, like a crack in the slab, and if you discover one of those problems after you move in, that's actionable. But she doesn't have to "list" the carpet problem, since you saw it for yourself during your walk-through, and you accepted the condition of the place when you closed. Nobody can force you to close on a house - if you're not satisfied with any aspect, don't close, because once the seller has your money, you really don't have any leverage over her.

Even if you could find her (you have to serve her notice of the pending case), and the judge ruled in your favor (questionable), collecting from an individual is a lot harder than collecting from companies. If you find out where they work, you can garnish their wages, but what if they're self-employed? The only way I got the money from my landlord who didn't refund my security deposit was by having his bank take it out of his savings account - but I was lucky enough to know where he banked.

Maybe the best person to ask for advice is the real estate lawyer you mentioned above. He can't represent you in small claims court, but if you talk to him, he can probably tell you if it's even worth your time to try (he probably wouldn't charge you for this advice - my nice lawyer didn't.)

I know you're mad, and morally the lady should pay you, but try to see the bright side of things. You said you were going to replace the carpet later anyway? So now you are enjoying nice carpet that you picked out instead of having to wait for it. (I know that won't be much consolation when the bill for the carpet comes.)

    Bookmark   September 11, 2002 at 3:31PM
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Nornster and your husband are probably right about the carpet...but my guess (I AM NOT a lawyer) is that it would depend on the extent of the problem and the cost of the repair. It's one thing for the owner to have told you the carpets were damp from a recent cleaning, entirely another to discover that the carpets and padding are ruined and worthless. While you clearly SHOULD HAVE checked this for yourself at the time, you may not have been able to tell if, for example, the subfloor was damaged or warped by the water or if water leeked through the subfloor and might pose a risk for more damage or mold.

Nornster is also right about talking to your lawyer, but get a second opinion if you'd like. I've met plenty of lawyers who are far from brilliant.

Also, in New York, (at least in NYC), you are allowed to hire a lawyer to represent you in small claims court. Of that I am certain.

    Bookmark   September 12, 2002 at 9:51AM
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I have been to small claims court a number of times. Dress up. Wear a suit and tie or conservative dress. Be polite and present evidence albeit pictures, documents, a witness or other types of evidence. Oftentimes the judge will make a decision based on how you handle yourself. Be cool, affable but business-like and you will have the upper hand.
If you allow it to be your word against their word the suit and tie will come in handy especially if you sound articulate and the defendant sounds like an inarticulate moron.

    Bookmark   October 3, 2002 at 8:26PM
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