Monday, April 27, 2009

How to Sue in Small Claims Court

The idea behind Small Claims Court is to provide an informal, straight forward legal proceeding to resolve disputes that may not involve enough money to warrant the expense of formal litigation. Most people do not hire lawyers to appear in Small Claims Court. For that reason, a brief overview of the process might be helpful.

What type of a Case Can Be Brought in Small Claims Court?

Small Claims Court can not hear disputes involving more than $10,000.  Small Claims Court can only award money.  You cannot ask the Court to order the other party to do anything, or to refrain from doing something.  If you win in Small Claims Court, you can only win a judgment for a dollar amount (up to $10,000 plus court costs).

Who Can Sue in Small Claims Court?

Any person who is over 18 years old can file a suit.  A minor can use the court by having a parent, relative, or "next friend" over 18 years old go with them to file and later attend trial.  An association, partnership, or corporation may also file a claim in small claims court.

Are There Alternatives to Small Claims Court?

You can and should attempt to settle a dispute without going to court.  If you do file a lawsuit you will spend time preparing your case.  You will also have to pay certain fees to have your case processed.  A trial can be a time-consuming and emotionally draining experience.

Where Do You File Suit?

Normally, you must file suit in the county where the party that is being sued resides or where the services you are complaining about were performed.  The justice of the peace in each county is also the Judge for Small Claims Court.  You can look in the telephone directory for justices of the peace near you.  You can also search for "Justice Courts" at  If there is more than one justice of the peace in your county, like there is for Jefferson County, then a small claim normally must be made in the court whose precinct covers the area where the Defendant resides.

How Do You File Suit?

Gather all the information you need before going to the courthouse.  Gather your records, including copies of contracts and agreements.  In addition make sure you have: (1) your complete name and address; (2) the complete name and address of each person or business your claim is against.  Correct names and addresses are vital to your case because the judge cannot grant a judgment against a defendant that was improperly named; (3) the amount you intend to claim in damages ($10,000 or less); and (3) a brief statement of the basis for your claim in plain, common sense terms.  Include in this statement the date the claim arose and other relevant dates.  Prepare this statement in advance so you do not waste your time or the Court's time.

You can expect to pay a fee to start the law suit and you should call in advance to find out what the court's fee is.  Ask to speak with the clerk in charge of Small Claims and fill out the forms they require.  You can also expect to have to swear under oath that your statements are true.  If you want a jury trial you can expect to pay an additional fee and you must specifically request this. The fees generally have to be paid in cash, money order, or company check.  You should also be able to tell the clerk where the defendant can be found and the approximate time of day he or she is likely to be found at that location. The defendant has to be served before the court can grant you any relief.

If you need more information our office has a 28 page pamphlet it can provide you at no charge which explains the process in more detail.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Becoming A Lawyer

Occasionally, the question comes to our firm: "What do you have to do become a Lawyer?"  Here is the short answer, but feel free to call to speak to one of our attorneys for more details.

  • What are the education and Licensing Requirements?

In Texas, you have to complete about seven years of school after high school.  Normally, the undergraduate degree or bachelor's degree takes about four years and then law school takes another three.  After you graduate from law school you will have to take a test called the "bar exam."  The test is graded by the Texas Board of Law Examiners.

  • Do I need to take any particular classes as an Undergraduate?

Not particularly, no.  There is not necessarily an official "pre-law" program you must follow.  Courses in English, Logic, and Public Speaking are generally recommended but not required.  A broad array is usually best because as a lawyer you are often expected to learn new subjects in short periods of time in order to cross-examine witnesses.

  • How much does law school cost?

Tuition and fees for law school range from $1,200 to $12,000 per semester for a full-time student.  You can usually call the admission office for the school you are interested in and get details from them.  Books average $500 to $750 for each semester.  There are numerous sources of financial aid so you should work with your school's financial aid office to qualify for as much of that as possible.

  • Where can I learn more?

State Bar of Texas -

American Bar Association -

Law School Admissions Council -

Injuries In Railroad Accidents

In recent headlines, President Obama has pushed to expand rail transportation and develop high speed passenger trains. The American Association for Justice has been actively involved in lobbying for protection to consumers injured as a result of accidents on passenger trains.  A recent article discusses this issue.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Pharmaceutical Claims

Recently, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to recognize the pharmaceutical industry argument that state law failure-to-warn claims against drug manufacturers were completely preempted by federal law.  Wyeth v. Levine, 2009 WL 529172(U.S.Vt.). This opinion has made headlines recently, but of particular interest in the opinion is language which points out the importance of litigation as a tool to protect the public.  The FDA has limited resources to monitor the more than 11,000 drugs on the market.  Having private attorneys assist in policing these drugs is a necessity in the eyes of the U.S. Supreme Court.