Small claims courts allow access to the courts at minimal cost.
Small Claims Courts
Small claims courts are informal and inexpensive means of bringing an action for damages up to $5,000. No attorneys are allowed. There are no appeals.
Small claims courts can be useful in some cases even if damages exceed $5,000. Even if attorney fees can be awarded, civil cases are usually settled for a reduced amount because of the risks inherent in litigation. For example, if your claim is $10,000, you may be offered $7,500 in settlement. Your attorney may suggest you take the offer because of the small possibility you could lose the case. If attorney fees to that point are $5,000, your net recovery is only $2,500. You would have been further ahead to file in small claims and settle for $5,000.
Washington State Small Claims Courts
WA-2008-small claims courts brochure
Oregon State Small Claims Courts
Oregon Small Claims Information
How do I file a small claim case? – from Oregon Small Claims Information
Before you sue, try to settle your dispute. When you file your claim with the court, you will be asked to sign a sworn statement called an affidavit stating that you have made a genuine effort to collect on the claim. You can try to settle by phone or in writing. Make sure your offer is simple, clear and unemotional. Remember that all written communications can be used later in the courtroom if necessary.
If you have exhausted all reasonable steps to settle the dispute out of court, and you know who is the right person to sue and where to file your suit, it is time to prepare everything you need to bring to your lawsuit in small claims court. You should collect all the information that will be needed before you go to the courthouse. Collect your records, including copies of contracts and agreements. You will also need the following information: a) your complete name and address; b) the complete name and address of each person or business your claim is against; c) the amount you intend to claim in damages (this amount must be $5,000 or less); d) a simple statement of your claim, when it started, and any other relevant date; and e) filing fees. Visit the Small Claims Department at the courthouse. The court clerk will give you the appropriate forms to file your claim. However, he or she cannot give you legal advice. You will be asked to swear under oath that your small claims statement is true. You will also have to pay the necessary filing fees. If you want a jury trial you must pay an additional fee. These fees generally must be paid in cash, money order, or company check. All of these costs may be added to the amount you recover at trial, if you win.