I am the defendant, and I lost my small claims case. Now what?

Updated: Apr 29

If you've received a judgment indicating that you've lost a case, your options to proceed depend on whether or not you agree with the judgment.

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Losing a Claim as a Defendant

Being the defendant on the original claim, you can lose the case in two different ways:

  • Losing the plaintiff's claim, which is the original case filed against you by the plaintiff

  • You have been ordered to pay the plaintiff on this claim

  • Losing the defendant's counterclaim, which is the claim you filed against the plaintiff in the same case

  • This means the plaintiff does not owe you any money on the counterclaim

Losing Plaintiff's Claim as Defendant

Losing the plaintiff's claim will leave you with different options depending on whether you've attended the hearing.

If you attended the hearing and lost the counterclaim, you can appeal the judge's decision. An appeal means the whole case is heard again as a new trial. Both parties may be represented by a lawyer in an appeal, and if you lose the appeal, you could pay additional costs for the other party's lawyer and/or their lost earnings and expenses related to the trial. If the judge decides that you appealed to delay or harass the other party, the judge may order you to pay even more for the other party's lawyer and lost earnings/expenses.

If you did not attend the hearing and lost the counterclaim, that means you've received a default judgment. You can file a motion to “vacate” (cancel) the judgment. This will be usually granted if you have a good reason for missing the original hearing. If the judge vacates the judgment, you will have a new trial. The new trial can be on the day of the vacation hearing or on a future date, so we suggest bringing your evidence every time you go to court, just to be prepared.

Losing Defendant's Counterclaim as Defendant

In a counterclaim, you are effectively the "plaintiff" of the claim. Unfortunately, losing the counterclaim leaves you with few options. You will not be able to appeal the decision of the court. If you believe a clerical error was made, or that there is an incorrect legal basis in the decision, you can file a motion to correct or cancel the judgment. If the judgment is canceled, you will receive a new trial.

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