Super Lawyers
Justia Lawyer Rating
Million Dollar Advocates Forum
AVVO Rating
Top 100 Trial Lawyers
Bar Register Preeminent Lawyers
Georgia Trend Legal Elite
Georgia Trial Lawyers Association
America's Top 100 Personal Injury Attorneys

Small Claims

Small Claims Court

We do not handle small claims, and do not provide free consultations* about small claims. While we love to help folks, we found too much of our working time was consumed giving free phone advice. This page is provided only as consumer information for people who have claims within the $15,000 jurisdictional limit of Magistrate Court and who choose to proceed without a lawyer.

If you want to consult a lawyer about a claim under $15,000, call the local bar association in the county where an individual defendant lives or a corporate defendant does business and ask for referral to a lawyer (probably younger) who is interested in handling smaller cases. There are lawyer referral services operated by bar associations in Atlanta and Cobb County.

When General Oglethorpe established the colony of Georgia at Savannah in 1733, initially as a refuge for denizens of English debtors' prisons, he decreed that the colony was to be free of lawyers. That prohibition didn't last long, but a faint echo may be found in the "small claims" procedures of Magistrate Courts.

Often it is not economically feasible to hire a lawyer to handle a small claim. However, the mere fact that a lawyer doesn't want to take a small case doesn't mean that your case isn't important to you, or that it does not have merit.

Magistrate Courts in each of Georgia's 159 counties have "small claims" jurisdiction up to $15,000. This means that many small claims for property damage and minor injuries may be handled efficiently in Magistrate Court. Even if you have a claim for a slightly greater amount, you may choose to voluntarily limit it to $15,000 in order to take advantage of the Magistrate Court's streamlined procedure.

After a Magistrate Court makes its decision, either party may appeal and demand a "de novo" jury trial. However, if the defendant appeals a Magistrate Court judgment, the plaintiff may claim more than the $15,000 that is allowed in Magistrate Court.

These courts are informal and relatively "user friendly". Cases can be filed by going to a Magistrate Court clerk's office, completing a form, and paying a modest filing fee. Many Magistrate Courts have evening sessions for the convenience of working people. A great many small claims are handled without lawyers on either side, and a nonjury trial may often be completed in less than an hour.

Before handling your own small claim in Magistrate Court, you should review:

Look up the registered agent of any corporate party.

Look up information for the Magistrate Court of the county where the defendant resides, or where a defendant business is located.

You may then contact the Magistrate Court office in the county where the defendant resides or the defendant business is located, and request specific information about where and how to file your small claim.

If you choose to represent yourself in Magistrate Court, you may consider some of these general admonitions:

  • Evidence and witnesses are crucial to proving your case. Never expect the Magistrate to just take your word for it.
  • If you are bringing the case, you have the burden of proof, so prepare your evidence meticulously.
  • Evidence is anything that supports your position, including photographs, medical bills, canceled checks, and written contracts.
  • Your documents should be organized, marked as exhibits, with copies for the court and the other side.
  • If you need to secure the attendance of a witness, you can obtain a subpoena from the court and serve it on the witness with the statutory witness fee and payment for mileage. There are special statutes regarding subpoenas to local police and deputy sheriffs and to state law enforcement officers.
  • Rehearsing witness testimony to avoid surprises or slip-ups is not only ethical; it's essential.
  • While live testimony of witnesses is best, evidentiary and procedural rules may be relaxed in Magistrate Courts "so as to do substantial justice between the parties according to the rules of substantive law." Therefore, Magistrates may consider affidavits (written statements sworn to before a notary) if a witness can't come to court. For example, you might use an affidavit from a physician about your injury. (See Georgia?s medical narrative statute, but make sure the doctor's narrative is sworn to before a notary.) You might also consider using in Magistrate Court an affidavit from a mechanic about the cost of repairing your car, or from a car dealer about the diminished value of your car. To be safe, check with the clerk of Magistrate Court to find out whether that Magistrate customarily allows such affidavits in lieu of live testimony.
  • To make a convincing presentation, you should practice. Lawyers with decades of experience should not just wing it, and neither should you.
  • You might start by describing the event that gives rise to your claim in just two or three sentences. Then fill in the events that led up to your loss. That is when you should present evidence.
  • The whole hearing may take just 15 minutes or so. Prepare to make your case succinctly but convincingly.
  • Dress nicely and stay calm at all times.
  • Speak only to the Magistrate, except to ask questions of witnesses.
  • Don't argue with the other side or with the Magistrate.
  • Above all, forget everything you may have seen on "People's Court" or "Judge Judy." Real courtrooms generally aren't that theatrical.
  • You might also purchase a book or DVD for further guidance before undertaking to represent yourself on a small claim in Magistrate Court. These are not specific to Georgia procedures, may be downloaded on Amazon Kindle. - Filing and Winning Small Claims for Dummies - Everybody's Guide to Small Claims Court (National Edition)

Note: Even though we love to help folks there are only so many hours in the day, so we no longer give free advice regarding small claims.

Providing general information about small claims procedures, subject to the Disclaimer concerning this web site, does not constitute legal advice or representation. If you choose to represent yourself in Magistrate Court, you do so at your own risk. Never forget the adage that "he who represents himself has a fool for a client." See the disclaimer for use of this web site.

Client Reviews
"Goes above and beyond and is a mountain of knowledge on spine and brain injuries. He does his research and represents you with a level of excellence. Remains a friend after representing me." Dee M., Woodstock, GA
"I have collaborated with Mr. Shigley on several initiatives within Georgia’s Judiciary over the past few years and found him to be a persistent and attentive individual. Ken has taken great pride in his involvement with the projects that I have worked on and he is good at influencing success. Despite his hectic schedule, Ken has always made time to discuss, research and review ideas for the best way to accomplish goals. I look forward to a continued working relationship in this and future roles." Jorge B., CIO, Judicial Council of Georgia
"After having to have a hole drilled in an automobile part at a machine shop 10 years ago, I told my uncle I could have done that. My uncle replied, "You are doing this once these guys do it every day" That simply means if you don't know where to turn, get help and get an expert. Ken was that help when I was severely injured during a fatal accident. Ken and his team at Shigley Law are experts, and are here to help you during your crisis. Ken will be there during the injury, recovery, and trial. He and his firm will work hard to see that you are represented fairly!" Jeremy R.
"Ken is a very kind man. He has a wealth of knowledge and is going above and beyond to help us while representing our case." Candy F., spouse of catastrophic injury client, Plains, GA
"I know Ken as trial lawyer of highest standards. Ken is knowledgeable and innovative and that translates to success in the courtroom. He is outgoing, compassionate and personable which makes him a pleasure to work with in any setting." Eric B., Attorney, Canton, GA