If you remember the old TV show “The People’s Court,” where Judge Wapner would decide disputes that ranged from the bizarre to the absurd, it should come as no surprise that people find themselves in all types of disputes, some big and some small. The judicial system is set up as a process to resolve these disputes, however, it can be complex, time consuming and very expensive.Consequently, many smaller disputes, although valid, just don’t justify hiring a lawyer, or spending the time and money to pursue them. To deal with this situation, most state legislatures have set up a system to resolve smaller disputes in a simpler, and more cost and time efficient manner. That system is called “conciliation” court or “small claims” court.
Whether or not you can bring your claim in conciliation court will depend on the nature of the claim and the amount in controversy. For example, in Minnesota, conciliation courts still cannot hear claims involving title to real estate, libel, slander, class actions, medical malpractice, or actions against deceased persons. Also, for the past several years, the maximum limit a party could recover in Minnesota conciliation court was $10,000. In 2014 however, the legislature increased that maximum to $15,000 ($4,000.00 in consumer credit cases). Any disputes with amounts in controversy above $15,000.00 must still be brought in district court.
If you meet the above jurisdictional requirements, there are certain advantages to conciliation court actions. First, all claims bought in conciliation court will still be heard by a district court judge, sitting in a conciliation court capacity. Next, the filing fees are much less than the district court, and when in conciliation court, you do not have to be represented by an attorney. Finally, the rules of evidence are more relaxed and the hearing itself is much less formal than a district court proceeding.
The Minnesota Judicial Branch has a wealth of information and resources for parties who are considering bringing a claim in conciliation court. These materials can be found at http://www.mncourts.gov/selfhelp/?page=313
It should be noted, however, that just because conciliation court is less formal and complex than district court, it does not mean that parties need not worry about certain legal pitfalls. Statutes of limitations, which act to bar claims if they are not brought within a certain period of time, still apply in conciliation court. Another potential pitfall involves the legal doctrine called “claim splitting.” Claim splitting occurs when a party brings one claim in conciliation court (such as a property damage claim), and another claim stemming from the same incident (such as a personal injury claim) in the district court. Parties need to be extra cautious because such “claim splitting” can act to bar some, or all of their claims. For additional information regarding “claim splitting,” see our blog post from July 1, 2014 entitled “A TRAP FOR THE UNWARY.”
Whether your issue is big or small, the attorneys at Nelson Personal Injury are always willing to discuss your legal issues with you. Call today for a free consultation.