Small Lawsuit and Cases in Texas

  • Small Claims Lawsuits in Texas
  • Damages?
  • Judge or Jury?
  • Appeal a Small Claims Case
  • Tips

SMALL CLAIMS LAWSUITS IN TEXAS

Small claims are cases filed in the justice court system (also referred to as justice of the peace courts) in Texas. Justice courts provide a more informal setting than the district or county courts, so parties will often represent themselves rather than hiring an attorney. The limit to the amount that a person can sue for in justice court is $20,000. Justice courts can also settle landlord/tenant disputes such as evictions and repairs.

DAMAGES

Not only do you have to prove the reason why someone is liable, or how they caused you harm, you have to prove damages in small claims cases.  In most cases, damages are monetary amounts supported by evidence.  If you are the plaintiff in a case (person who filed the lawsuit), you are responsible for proving your precise amount of money damages.  You cannot just walk into court and ask to be awarded the maximum amount of $20,000.00; you have to present a specific monetary amount and must back it up with trustworthy testimony or documentary evidence.

If you are the defendant (person being sued), under Texas law you are allowed to remain silent about the plaintiff’s damages because it is not your burden to prove.  However, it’s always advisable to “poke holes” in the plaintiff’s damages evidence with your own evidence or arguments.

JUDGE OR JURY?

Texas law says that you can pick whether you want your case to be decided by a judge or jury in most civil cases.  The default selection is a trial by judge (oftentimes called a “bench trial”).  If you decide that you want a jury of 6 citizens to decide your case, you must request a jury trial with the court clerk and pay the jury fee in a timely manner.

Be aware that, in Texas, justice court judges are not required to be attorneys.  The judge’s understanding of legal concepts may be good or bad.

Jury trials are complex and time-consuming as it will require a more in-depth understanding of the laws regarding jury selection.  Jury trials also generally last longer than bench trials and are probably not advisable for parties representing themselves, unless you feel extremely comfortable speaking in front of large groups of people.

APPEALS

Once a small claims case is decided by judge or jury, the judgment can be appealed by a dissatisfied party.  However, be warned that there are strict deadlines for filing an appeal.  In most cases, the filing of the appeal requires posting an expensive bond and payment of court costs.  Once appealed, the case is transferred to the County Court at Law where the parties are required to start completely fresh with the case (just as if the small claims case never existed).

TIPS

Though no outcome is guaranteed when you put your case in the hands of a judge or jury, following these tips will help you present your case in the best possible way:

  • Wear business casual clothes to court (at a minimum).
  • Keep updated contact information with the court clerk.
  • Decide early what evidence you have.  Witness testimony?  Documents?  Photographs?
  • Decide early if you want a judge or a jury to decide your case.  If you want a jury, you must pay the jury fee early.
  • Always show up on your court date or call the court clerk early to ask for an extension or continuance.  If you don’t show up, your case may be dismissed or a judgment taken against you.
  • Write down notes of what you want to say and what your story is.
  • Do not expect the court or the other side to prove your case for you.  THIS IS YOUR JOB.