If you have a rather minor car accident case in Georgia, you might want to file suit for your damages in Magistrate Court. Magistrate court is unofficially known as “small claims court.”
The reason Magistrate Court is known as small claims court is because damages are capped at $15,000. In other words, if you think you are entitled to more than $15,000, Magistrate Court is the wrong court for you.
Why is Magistrate Court so appealing? This is because the process is so much faster than litigating in state court. In State Court, both parties are entitled to discovery, which lasts a minimum of six months. Magistrate Court has no discovery. The plaintiff files a complaint, and then after the defendant answers, the case is set for a trial within 30 days. Each county has a Magistrate Court.
What are some of the drawbacks of Magistrate Court? One of the chief problems with suing in Magistrate Court is either party can appeal the ruling up to state court and request a jury trial under O.C.G.A. 5-3-30.
Therefore, if you do too well in Magistrate Court, the positive verdict might be for naught. This is in addition to the time you would have wasted attending a trial. If you are the appealing party, you would also have to pay a filing fee, along with a transfer fee. You then would have to go through the time consuming and expensive discovery process that you were hoping to avoid by filing in Magistrate Court to begin with.
Typically, on the day of your hearing, the judge will ask the parties to step aside and try to make a settlement. If they cannot agree to a settlement and want to have a trial, they will exchange evidence at that time.
Magistrate Court forms can be found here.
Peter Bricks is a Woodstock personal injury and bankruptcy attorney in the metro Atlanta area, who files cases in the Magistrate Court of Cherokee County.