For legal claims of up to $10,000 against another person or a business, Oregon law provides for small claims courts in each county to resolve the issue. The process begins when someone files a claim with the court clerk, pays the required fees, and has the lawsuit served on the defendant. For most people, small claims is a self-service process, as attorneys can only represent clients in an Oregon small claims court with the permission of a judge.
Preparing the Claim
The small-claims process in Oregon begins with a Notice of Small Claim form. The plaintiff -- the individual bringing the suit -- is responsible for completing this form, and accurately naming the defendant. If the other party is an individual, her name must be given in full. Suing a company means getting the correct name of the business owner -- if it's an individual "doing business as" -- or the parent corporation, as well as the name and address of the company's registered agent. The Oregon Secretary of State has this information available online or over the phone. If a plaintiff sues the wrong party, the defendant can move to have the court dismiss the suit, and charge costs to the plaintiff.
Claiming the Loss
Small claims is defined in Oregon as a plaintiff seeking $10,000 or less in damages. If a plaintiff is suing for more than $750, he has the option of bringing your claim to general civil court, where the law allows an attorney to represent the parties to a lawsuit. Claims for less than $750 must be heard in small claims, where attorneys must have permission of the judge to appear. The plaintiff must specify the amount of the loss on the claim form, and give itemized details of costs incurred, or written professional estimates of repairs needed due to the defendant's negligence or liability. Small claims courts can't adjudicate guesstimates, or levy punitive damages over and above specific losses.
Service on the Defendant
Plaintiffs file small claims suits in the defendant's home county, or the county where the damage or loss occurred. After filing a small claims case, the plaintiff must arrange legal service of the claim on the defendant. This means handing the case over to a sheriff's department to deliver the claim in person, having a certified process server handle it, or mailing the claim by certified mail, return receipt requested. Plaintiffs can also serve the defendant personally if he agrees to sign an Acceptance of Service form. For businesses, a registered agent is the individual or company responsible for accepting legal papers, including small claims lawsuits.
Orders of the Court
After service, the defendant has 14 days to pay the claim, submit a response, or request a jury trial. if the defendant does not respond at all, the plaintiff can move for a default judgment. Otherwise, the court will set a mediation or a trial, at which both plaintiff and defendant can plead their cases and present evidence. At a court hearing, the judge then presents his decision, which is final and not subject to appeal. Once a small claims court issues a judgment in a plaintiff's favor, it's up to the plaintiff to collect funds from the defendant, using demand letters or more coercive legal means, such as levies, liens or wage garnishment.
Founder/president of the innovative reference publisher The Archive LLC, Tom Streissguth has been a self-employed business owner, independent bookseller and freelance author in the school/library market. Holding a bachelor's degree from Yale, Streissguth has published more than 100 works of history, biography, current affairs and geography for young readers.