What are the possible outcomes of my small claims case?
Updated: Apr 27
After attending your hearing, you may be wondering what the next steps are, as your hearing may not be the end of your case.
Here are some things that could have happened at your hearing:
You were told you would receive your judgment (decision) later in the mail
You received the judgment on the day of the hearing
You attended the hearing and the case was dismissed without prejudice
You attended the hearing and the case was dismissed with prejudice
Your hearing was postponed
A settlement was reached between you and the other party
You didn't attend your hearing
Judgment - Win/Lose
In the mail
The judge will often tell you the judgment will come in the mail after the hearing, especially if both parties attended the hearing. Most judges do not want to hand out judgment right away. You may receive your judgment in the mail within two weeks. Typically, judgments are finalized within two to three business days from the hearing. If you don't receive your judgment in the mail within a week, search for your case status on the county's small claims website (which may include information on your case and the judgment rendered) or call the court clerk to check on the case status.
Received at hearing
Sometimes, the judge will hand out the judgment on the day of the hearing. This commonly happens if you attended your hearing as the plaintiff and the defendant did not attend, in which case the judge might give out the default judgment to you because the defendant did not show up to contest the claim. If that happens, you can consider yourself the winner of the case.
Judgment - Dismissal
When a case is dismissed without prejudice, it means the case can be filed again, as long as it's within the statute of limitation. This can happen if the defendant attends the hearing and the plaintiff does not, which means a hearing cannot be heard and the judge dismisses the case but allows the plaintiff to refile in the future.
If you are a plaintiff, you can pay the filing fee and refile your case again, as long as you are still within the statute of limitation.
If you are the defendant, your case is now closed without any judgment against you (you do not owe the other party any money). However, if the plaintiff decides to file the case again, the process will start from the beginning.
When a case is dismissed with prejudice, it means the case cannot be filed again. This can happen if the defendant attends the hearing and the plaintiff does not attend the hearing multiple times, which means a hearing cannot be heard and the judge dismisses the case altogether because it's not the plaintiff’s first missed hearing.
If you are the plaintiff, and you have a legitimate reason for arguing that your case should not be dismissed, you can file to ask to have the dismissal judgment vacated (removed). You will have to attend a hearing with the judge to explain why you believe the dismissal was not warranted. Once the dismissal is removed, you can then refile your case as long as you are within the statute of limitation.
If you are the defendant, your case is now closed without any judgment against you. The plaintiff cannot refile the case again, but they can file a motion to vacate (remove) the dismissal. If the dismissal is removed, they can refile the case again.
Did not attend the hearing
If you did not attend your hearing, there will likely be a judgment made on your case that will be sent to you via mail. If you do not receive a mailed judgment in a week, we suggest looking up your case in your local county court database or contacting the clerk to find out the judgment of your case.
If you are the plaintiff, you will likely receive a judgment in the mail indicating a dismissal of your case.
If you are the defendant, you will likely receive a judgment in the mail indicating a default judgment against you, since you were not present to present your side of the story. If that happens, you have lost the case due to your lack of attendance.
When a hearing is postponed (sometimes referred to as a continuance being issued), it means you will need to attend a hearing on a new date. You should have received a notice with the new date on the day of the hearing or in the mail. If you are unsure of the new date, we suggest you contact the court clerk to confirm. You will need to attend the new hearing to present your side of the story to the judge.
In some courts, mediation is asked from the parties before the hearing takes place, to give the parties a chance to reach a settlement (an agreement that both parties are happy with, without going in front of the judge). If you have settled via mediation, you should have a new agreement with the other party including terms for both parties to perform. We suggest you keep a copy of this settlement agreement. If the other party does not follow through, you can file a new case for the violation of the mediation agreement.
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