What are Florida Small Claims Cases and Class Action Lawsuits?
Florida’s small claims cases are legal actions filed to settle disputes regarding amounts of no more than $5,000. Class-action lawsuits are consolidated legal actions or suits where one defendant of the class represents all the others who were injured, hurt, or wronged in a similar or the same manner. In Florida, small claims cases and class-action lawsuits are heard by different trial courts. Small claims cases are heard by county courts, while circuit courts hear class-action lawsuits.
County courts have established procedures to resolve minor disputes in an inexpensive, simple, and speedy manner. Anyone aged 18 and above can file a small claim or form part of a class-action lawsuit. For the plaintiff’s younger than 18, a parent or guardian may file on their behalf.
Records that are considered public may be accessible from some third-party websites. These websites often make searching more straightforward, as they are not limited by geographic location, and search engines on these sites may help when starting a search for a specific or multiple records. To begin using such a search engine on a third-party or government website, interested parties usually must provide:
- The name of the person involved in the record, unless said person is a juvenile
- The location or assumed location of the document or person involved
Third-party sites are independent of government sources and are not sponsored by these government agencies. Because of this, record availability on third-party websites may vary.
What Cases are Heard by Small Claims Courts in Florida?
In Florida, small claims cases are heard by county courts, also known as “The People’s Courts.” There are 67 county courts in Florida with one in each county. County courts have jurisdiction over civil disputes where no more than $30,000 is involved. Apart from small claims, county courts also hear cases of less serious criminal offenses like misdemeanors, citizen disputes, and traffic offenses. Florida state statutes ( Fla. Stat. § 34.01) establish county court jurisdiction in:
- County and municipal ordinance violations
- All legal action involving $30,000 or less, except those within the circuit court’s jurisdiction
- Misdemeanor cases that are not heard in circuit courts
- Homeowners’ Association disputes
- Property damage
- Divorce cases (simplified and uncontested divorces)
- Equity cases involving $30,000 or less
What is a Class Action Lawsuit in Florida?
A class-action lawsuit is a legal action; it is also known as a “representative action.” A class of wronged people in the same or similar ways files a consolidated suit in a class-action lawsuit. One member of the class, together with their attorney, represents the class in court.
According to Florida’s Rules of Civil Procedure, there are prerequisites to filing class-action lawsuits:
- The court must determine that the number of claimants is so many that it is impossible to file separate cases
- The class representative must make the same claims and defenses as each member of the class
- The class representative must represent and protect the interests of each member of the class
- After the court determines that the class’s claims or defenses can be maintained, the suit cannot be voluntarily withdrawn without the court’s approval
Fla. Stat. § 768.734 establishes that only persons residing in Florida at the time of the alleged offense may form part of a claimant class. However, non-residents may be included if the alleged offense happened in Florida. If the claim is recognized and not time-barred in a non-resident’s state, they may also form part of a claimant class in Florida.
How do I File a Claim in a Florida Small Claims Court?
To file a small claim in Florida, the plaintiff must be 18 or older and must have a claim of no more than $5,000. This amount does not include interests, attorney’s fees, and filing fees. Interested persons can file a complaint by completing and submitting a Statement of Claim. The statement is available and should be filed with the Clerk of Court in each county. If the claim is based on a document, a copy of the document should be submitted with the statement. Suits can be filed in person at the office of the Clerk of Court or by mail. Filing fees may apply and vary by county. A pre-trial conference will be scheduled upon the filing of the claim.
Small claims must be filed in specific locations:
- Where the defendant lives
- Where the agreement or contract was entered
- Where the alleged offense occurred
- The agreed place in the contract
- For a promissory note, where the author lives or where the note was signed
- For lien foreclosures, where the property is
A small claims defendant might request a transfer if the plaintiff did not file in any of the proper venues. After filing, the defendant must be served a notice of the filing and the court date. A copy of the filing must be attached to the notice or summons.
At the pre-trial conference, the court will consider the possibility of settlement and may order mediation. If both parties agree with the help of a trained mediator, the dispute settlement will be approved by the judge. If there is no resolution, the court will set a trial date.
Do I Need a Small Claims Lawyer?
Lawyers offer counsel on specialized areas of law. For example, a business lawyer can provide advice on business claims. Lawyers also guide their clients through the requirements for a small claim and may represent them in court. However, in Florida, it is possible to file a claim without a lawyer. The Clerk of Court typically provides the required information for filing. It is also possible to go to trial without a lawyer. However, if the claim is against a business, it may be best to hire a lawyer.
How do Class Action Lawsuits Work in Florida?
Typically, a class-action is initiated by a person or group of wronged or similarly harmed people. In Florida, up to 40 people are required for a case to qualify as a class-action. An attorney files the action on behalf of the class representative. If the court certifies the case as a class-action, each member of the class will be notified. Claimants may participate in the class-action as a member or pursue individual claims.
In determining whether a case can be certified as a class-action, the court considers the nature of the claim and whether it meets the requirements stated in the rules of civil procedure. The requirements are:
- Numerosity: there must be a sufficient number of claimants to form a class. The number of claimants must be so much that it becomes impractical to hear individual cases.
- Commonality: the claims of all class members must be about similar issues. There may be factual differences, but there must be common ground.
- Adequacy of representation: the representative must fairly represent and protect each class member’s interests.
- Typicality: the representative’s claims must match those of the other class members
Is a Class Action Better Than a Single Party Suit?
Class-action lawsuits and single party suits both have benefits and drawbacks. Where individual damages are not substantial enough to warrant a lawsuit, a class-action is a way to seek retribution. Class-actions are also a way to save attorney fees since one attorney will represent all class members. However, all members of a class-action lawsuit are paid at the same time. Due to the number of people, amounts due to each member may not be significant.
Also, participants in a class-action cannot control the lawsuit or settlement process. If the class-action is not successful, class members cannot pursue individual lawsuits for the same offense.
Persons who feel their interests will not be fairly and adequately represented in a class-action lawsuit may pursue individual lawsuits.