What to Expect at a Small Claims Hearing
If you've been sued in small claims court you may be wondering “what is the hearing going to be like?” Or “what is going to happen at my hearing?” These are common questions that we hear on the phone. Here are some ideas on what to expect.
“Return Date” or the Initial Hearing
If you've been sued in small claims the “summons and complaint” will have something called a “return date” listed on it. Sometimes this date is changed/moved by the Court if you file a written answer. But it's likely this will be the date on the documents and this is the date you must appear at court. Don't ignore this date or fail to appear; otherwise the company/person suing you could get an automatic win (called a “default judgment”) against you. Once they have a default judgment they can try and garnish your wages or assets.
What Happens at the First Hearing
The court will tell you when and where to appear; this may be a virtual hearing or an in-person hearing. Do not be late for this hearing; it's always wise to plan on some technology or travel delays occurring. It's always better to be early! There may be many hearing scheduled for the same time, so be patient and plan on waiting for some time. The clerk or judge will announce your case – so be listening for your name. If you're physically in court, you should stand up when your name is called. If you're appearing virtually, take yourself off “mute” and state that you are present. The court will then ask if you contest the debt, or if you admit owing the debt. If you admit to owing the debt, the court will immediately enter a judgment in favor of your creditor. So if you don't owe the debt, make sure you clearly state your answer and denial. The court may ask you why you don't owe it; so be ready to answer those questions.
Next Court Date – or the “Trial”
If you contest owing the debt, the court will set the case for a trial. Be prepared for that date and have your witnesses and evidence in order. If you do not, the Court will likely find in favor of the company/person that sued you. You may need to send something called “discovery” to the other side to prepare for the hearing. Discovery is a formal request for documents or evidence the other side possesses. The other side may send you discovery to answer; make sure you follow the deadlines for responding, otherwise you may commit a mistake which gives them an automatic win. As you can probably tell, it is easy to make a mistake entitling the person suing you to an automatic win (the legal term is a “judgment”). Preparation is the key to winning your case.
What to Wear to Small Claims Court
You should be dressed appropriately for small claims court – even if you are appearing via video. This means you should not wear any clothing with inappropriate words or pictures. We recommend dressing for an important job interview; a clean shirt with a collar or other appropriate material. If you are appearing via video make sure there is no background noise or interruptions – and that you are muted unless speaking to the court. Showing this respect to the court shows that you are taking the case seriously and showing respect for the legal proceeding.
What Happens if you Lose
If you lose your trial, you will have a right to a “de novo” hearing. This means you get a second chance for a brand-new trial in front of a different judge. If you lose that first hearing, it would be wise to seek legal advice and assistance. If you proceed to a second trial and merely make the same (losing) arguments from your first trial, the outcome will likely be the same.
We provide representation in small claims cases in Wisconsin, including Racine, Kenosha, Green Bay, Appleton, the Fox Valley, Milwaukee, West Allis, Waukesha, Walworth County, Dane County, Madison, La Crosse, Eau Claire, Superior, Ashland, and anywhere in-between.