As the cost of full-blown civil lawsuits skyrocket, many plaintiffs look to the small claims lawsuit process to resolve their damages. One enterprising Honda Civic owner used the small claims process to beat the manufacturer where others had failed in Superior Court. This has publicized what “could inspire a whole new litigation strategy” for consumers. Many states have a requirement that a small claims case proceed without an attorney in court on either side, so that the proceedings are fair and without an undue financial burden. But having to proceed without an attorney does not mean that a party cannot obtain professional assistance. A qualified attorney can still be consulted prior to trial to go over planned strategy and logistics.
In addition, our agency has seen increased interest from parties to a small claims lawsuit for investigative work to gather evidence for their case. It is likely that the opposing party to a case will bring to court some self-generated evidence to support their arguments. Strong evidence developed by a licensed professional investigative agency can be compelling in court.
In one case we are aware of, a party claimed to have been defrauded by a merchant for just over $1000. The merchant argued they
had done nothing wrong, and disputed the plaintiffs description of what happened. An investigator posed as a customer at the same merchant and was able to document the exact same pattern of treatment described by the plaintiff. Faced with this sworn evidence by a licensed PI in court, the merchant settled and agreed to pay all costs.
In another case, a local shipping outlet store arranged to send a package for a client containing valuable computer equipment. Upon arrival, the package was found to have been opened and re-boxed, with some of the items removed. An investigator was able to use statements from employees at the shipping store, along with samples of new boxes form that store to prove that the tampering and theft occurred prior to the box going to the carrier. The store owner agreed to replace the stolen items. In both of these cases the investigative costs were a few hundred dollars, but likely made the difference between winning and losing the case.
As small claims court cases become a more popular means to settle losses, the use of professional investigators will be more common to establish facts and evidence in those cases.