Video: Overview of small claims cases
Go to descriptive transcript. Links in this video: VTLawHelp.org
In Vermont, if you have a dispute about money with a person, business or organization and the amount you are asking for is $5,000 or less, small claims court can help.
This Roadmap will teach you how to start and complete a case in small claims court in Vermont. Watch our videos, read our detailed instructions and follow the steps!
When can you use small claims court?
In small claims court, the maximum amount you can ask for is $5,000. These are just a few examples of when you can use small claims court:
- Your past employer didn’t pay you for the last week you worked.
- Your landlord kept your security deposit for a reason that you think is illegal.
- A business lied about a product or service that they sold you, and you want your money back.
You can start a small claims case in Vermont even if you have moved out of state.
When small claims court can’t help:
- Small claims court cannot help if you are asking the court to order someone to pay you more than $5,000.
- Small claims court cannot help if you are asking the court to order someone to do something or stop doing something. That kind of order is called an “injunction” Here are examples of injunctions:
- Your friend borrowed your laptop and won’t give it back and you want the court to order them to return it.
- Your landlord put a padlock on your apartment door and you want the court to order them to unlock it.
- The town where you live has condemned your home, but you have nowhere to go and you want the court to order that you can keep living there.
- If you need more than $5,000 or you need an injunction, don’t use small claims court. Instead, you must file a case in the Civil Division of Vermont Superior Court. Note: If you wanted to sue someone for more than $5,000, but will settle for $5,000, you can use small claims court to get the $5,000. Some people do this because small claims court is easier and cheaper than going to the Civil Division of Vermont Superior Court.
You don’t need a lawyer in small claims court!
Most people represent themselves in small claims court. (Although you can hire a lawyer if you want.)
Legal Services Vermont and Vermont Legal Aid don’t represent people in small claims cases. We can give you quick advice over the phone.
This Roadmap will show you how to give yourself the best chance of winning your Vermont small claims case.
It's important to know that the small claims process can take months to complete. It can then take months or even years to collect what you are owed.
When you start a small claims case, you are called the “plaintiff.” The person, organization or business who owes you money is called the “defendant.”
You can include more than one dispute with the same defendant in your lawsuit, if the total amount you are asking for is $5,000 or less.
To get started, make a list of each reason the defendant owes you money or caused you to lose money. These are your “damages.”
There are two special types of damages you should know about:
- Are you suing a former landlord over a security deposit? You can get double the total amount of the deposit if your landlord kept the deposit without a written reason, or if they waited more than 14 days to get your deposit back to you. See our Security Deposit Roadmap for more information.
- Are you a customer suing a business over a product or service that they sold you? You may be entitled to triple the amount you spent on the product or service, if the business lied to you about the product or service.
Now list out all the people who know about the dispute. These are your potential “witnesses.”
List all the documents, photos, emails, letters and messages that you have about the dispute. These are your “exhibits.” Gather these and put them in a folder or notebook.
Now imagine that you are the defendant. What witnesses and exhibits might they use to prove their side of the case? Make a list of those things.
Follow the steps
In the next step, learn how to fill out, file and serve your small claims paperwork.