MAGISTRATE COURT, PROS, AND CONS
In a number of cases, I have clients who have suffered civil damages by another party (person or corporation) but to a lesser degree than what we would normally want to file in the Court of Common Pleas (Circuit Court for the County). The dollar amount of estimated damages, either by a breach of contract, money owed on a debt, or even personal injury or property damage, is under $10,000.00. If the other side will not settle, I must explain the costs and time involved in bringing litigation in the Court of Common Pleas: Around a year before the trial, substantial expenses involved with paying for depositions and other discovery-related expenses, etc. Common Pleas becomes cost prohibitive in low damage cases. The alternative to consider in this situation is the Magistrate court. Let me explain.
First, Magistrate Court is commonly referred to as "people's court," and many of the cases are handled by parties not represented by attorneys. Magistrate Judges are normally not attorneys, and the rules of Civil Procedure can be relaxed to allow for much more speedy litigation. Magistrate Court is limited to damages up to $7500.00 (though this does not include costs and even attorney fees which parties can request in addition to the award). Importantly, Magistrate Court cases do not involve discovery prior to trial, and cases are normally up for trial within around 90 days. The only expense in Magistrate Court is a filing fee, which is usually around $80-$90. That's it unless the party hires an expert, counsel, or some other expense.
Though a party bringing a suit in Magistrate Court is limited to a plea for $7500 or less, multiple parties involved with the same damages can each bring suit for up to $7500. For example, if a family is in a vehicle which is rear-ended by another, each member of the family can bring a separate suit for up to $7500 in Magistrate Court. For a family of four, this can add up to $30,000.00, and the case can normally be aggregated into one trial. Understand that each suit requires a separate filing fee. So for the family of four, the total filing fee would likely be over $300.
Attorneys will normally work off contingency in litigating a case in Magistrate Court in the same manner as with the Court of Common Pleas. Therefore, you wouldn't pay an attorney by an hourly fee (unless that is the arrangement agreed upon) but would pay either 33% or 40% depending upon the contingency agreement. The attorney can then handle all filings and try the case. Of course, some parties might want to act as their own attorney. If the other side is not represented by an attorney, this might make sense.
In some cases, though the damages might go beyond $7500, a party may decide to plea for the reduced amount of $7500 to file in Magistrate Court. Though some money might be forfeited, the savings of time and money in Magistrate Court makes it worthwhile. A party can request a jury trial just as in Common Pleas, and with an attorney, the other side can be kept within the rules of evidence (cutting out hearsay and other such violations of rules).
I have found Magistrate Court to be a great place to bring a case, with quick and less expensive results. Quite appropriate to be called "people's court."