If you’re thinking of suing someone in small claims court, the odds are in your favor. Over 90% of civil lawsuits that go to trial are awarded in the plaintiff’s favor. And considering that 95% of civil lawsuits are actually settled out of court, chances are yours may never make it to a courtroom.
However, it’s still best to be prepared in case you are suing somebody—or find yourself to be a defendant. Here are ten tips on how to win a civil lawsuit.
1. Know the Compensation You Are Seeking
Many people sue another party without being exactly sure what kind of compensation they are seeking. Civil lawsuits are usually filed because the plaintiff seeks money to compensate for damages. But they also may want the defendant to take action to remedy their wrongful doing.
Know exactly how you want to be compensated for damages before seeking legal action.
2. Hire an Attorney
It’s very tempting to want to save money by representing yourself in court, but the truth is some civil lawsuits can be tricky. A good attorney increases your chances of winning the case, as they know the legal system.
Many of them also specialize in various forms of civil cases including personal injury, breach of contract, employee lawsuits, and more. And they’ll know which court and jurisdiction is appropriate for your type of case and make sure the statute of limitations has not expired.
Word-of-mouth referrals are a good place to start to find a qualified lawyer. You can also contact your local or state legal bar associations to vet potential attorneys.
3. Gather All Evidence
Just like any other type of trial, small claims cases rely on evidence to help the judge or jury make their decision. Civil court cases are awarded based on a “preponderance of the evidence” which means at least 51% of the evidence presented has to prove you’re in the right.
Document all evidence you have against the other party (or to prove your innocence if you’re on the receiving end of a lawsuit.) This can include photos, video, documentation, witness statements, and more. Keep track of dates, medical records (if applicable), bills and more that support your case or that prove you upheld your part of a contract.
4. Check For Legislation
Businesses are required under certain laws to deliver specific products or services to a customer and some must be licensed.
If you happen to be suing a business, check to see if they are licensed and operating according to the law in the first place. A business that is not following the law can help your case, and you may also be able to seek punitive damages thanks to their negligence.
5. Practice Delivering Your Argument
This is important because you want to come across as relatable and credible to the judge and jurors. Take time to practice the argument you make while making it concise and easy to understand. Ask a friend or family member to hear your speech and provide feedback on how you can improve it.
You want to be thorough in the courtroom without coming across as rambling.
6. Dress Professionally
Despite the old saying about never judging a book by its cover, the reality is appearances do matter in the courtroom. Dressing appropriately will help you be taken more seriously and shows you respect a court of law.
For men, it doesn’t hurt to wear a suit coat and tie with appropriate footwear. Ladies should take care not to show cleavage or wear a miniskirt. Leave the casual clothing including shorts, jeans, and t-shirts at home.
Show up well groomed as well, with clean hair, teeth, and nails. There’s no guarantee the way you present yourself will help your case, but it certainly cannot hurt it.
7. Conduct Yourself Professionally
Just as important as dressing the right way for court is being polite to everyone including the court clerk.
Don’t make any inappropriate comments or jokes; show everyone in the court that you mean business. Acting in a respectful manner demonstrates that you’re taking the lawsuit seriously and want to have your case heard fairly.
8. Show Up
This is especially important for those on the receiving end of a civil lawsuit, as many defendants don’t show up for the trial. When that happens, guess who usually wins? So if you have any chance of defending yourself, you need to actually show up in court.
If you absolutely cannot be present in court, considering working with an appearance attorney. This article has information about choosing an appearance attorney.
9. Be Prepared For the Counterargument
The opposing party is going to have their say as well, and will do what they can to discredit you. You and your attorney need to be prepared for possible scenarios that may arise, and discuss how you will deflect them.
This is why you can’t have enough evidence logged proving your innocence or the other person’s negligence. If you’re a contractor, for example, being sued for an incomplete job, any photos you have of the completed work will be invaluable in helping to proof your side of the story.
10. Be Prepared to Settle Out of Court
As mentioned, most small claims lawsuits are settled before they go to trial. The defendant may admit their guilt or they may wish to avoid negative PR and spending time at the courthouse.
Whatever the case, be prepared for the possibility of a settlement without a trial. It’s quite possible the other party will offer even more than anticipated so that you’ll accept their offer.
Preparation Will Help You Win a Civil Lawsuit
The above ten tips will put you one step closer to winning your civil lawsuit. Preparation is the key. You can never be too prepared or have too much evidence to help win your case.
Here at Let’s Be Game Changers, we love helping our readers live the best lives they possibly can. For more tips on dealing with legal matters, check our latest lifestyle content.