Suing Big Companies In Small Claims Court Is Fun And Easy

Taking a big company to small claims court sounds like a big hassle but reader Bill has done it successfully three times. He says the time and effort spent on taking a company to small claims court is far less then how it long it takes to get companies to fix above-average in complexity problems.

Here’s his typical expenditure for a small claims suit: $24 and 45 minutes. The $24 is the cost to file a claim. The 45 minutes includes his total time of driving to and from court to file, as well as the time spent on the phone with the company when they call to settle.

See, in all cases, he hasn’t even had to go to court: the company calls him up the day before the court date and gives him a settlement. It seems they prefer to do that then pay to fly a company representative who isn’t fully versed on all the facts to court. Here’s his true story of how he got what he deserved from Tmobile and Washington Mutual, without breaking a sweat.

Bill writes:

Twice I have taken T-Mobile to Small Claims court. Each time I asked for payment of my many hours of time, to have early termination fees waived and to have money refunded to me for equipment that never worked. Each time they have called me and settled for what I was asking. Then I would tell them to apply the settlement to my account. Since I’m a heavy user of my cell phone and I know that changing companies is just another set of headaches, I opt to stay put. Mostly because I know how to fight this monster. In those two cases combined, I have got my $2912.00 back. Settling the case.

Washington Mutual bank had taken overdraft fees of $58.00 even though the check was deposited and they didn’t clear it when they said it was immediately available. I took them to small claims and asked for $2,058.00. $2000 for the impact it caused and for punitive. They called 7 days before the court date and sent me a check, settling the case for exactly what I asked for. I have not had a problem with them since.

It important to note that corporations can’t use an attorney in small claims and they have to send (fly) a representative that is NOT fully versed on the facts. It’s easier to just pay from their point of view. In small claims, they are stripped of their lawyers and the odds are in favor of the consumer. [ed. Depends. In some states, companies can send their lawyers.]

The bigger point that I’m making here is that perhaps to the average consumer this is a lot of hassle. However, if a reasonable person was to take a look at this from a time management point of view, here was my total investment in money and time: $24 to file the small claims, 45 minutes total on each case, that includes driving to the court to file and talking with them on the phone once to get the settlement.

It’s understandable why consumers do not want to sue and to try to work it out. But in reality, that is a lot of aggravation, time for the least amount of gain. However, the satisfaction of wining and getting paid for it is unbeatable. Now, I do not get upset or angry, I just wait for them to play their games and I sue. No warning, no anger and no headaches.

Taking a big company to small claims court of course only applies when you have been legitimately and materially wronged by the company. We’re not talking about spurious claims and people trying to unfairly profit. I make this caveat because I know someone is going to freak out in the comments about hurting the poor company and frittering away tax dollars and how baseless lawsuits make services expensive for the rest of us.

Now that that’s out of the way, here’s some posts we did on how to take a company to small claims court:

How To Take Your Case To Small Claims Court
Here’s a state-by-state index of links to small claims court papers and brochures.

(Illustration: Leo Espinosa)

Comments

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  1. JustRunTheDamnBallBillick. says:

    Um, companies CAN bring an attorney in small claims court, so can you. Small claims court is just designed in order to avoid lawyers, it doesnt ban them as far as I know.

    I sued a former employer in small claims in PA, they had an attorney defend them. Ive also been in court locally (MD) and seen people defending themselves against lawyers for collection agencies.

    • longtimegeek says:

      It varies from state to state – in Colorado, the person in court as the representative of the company has to be a full-time employee of the company. So, if they have full-time lawyers on their payroll, they could send a lawyer – otherwise, nope. So they could not just pay an in-state lawyer to take the case.

      Even if they have a “full-time employee lawyer” if that person is not based in Colorado, they would have to fly them in.

  2. calvinneal says:

    In many states the case can be bumped to a higher court with lawyers at the request of either litigant. This is the case in Michigan.

  3. brent_w says:

    I wish I had thought of doing something like this with National City bank.

    I ate huge overdraft fees because the bank representative I opened my account with did not apply the overdraft protection they offered me to the account.

    I had to spend some money in an emergency that my overdraft protection would have easily covered, but they then claimed my account never had it an forced me to pay all the fees.

  4. quail says:

    The key to this method is the size of the company you’re going after. A Goliath like AT&T, Exxon/Mobil, Best Buy, find it’s more economical to settle than to send one of their $200.00 an hr. plus expense lawyers down. The small guy will fight back.

  5. EricaKane says:

    Some states, companies can have a lawyer, other states they can’t. Misleading information!

  6. mir777 says:

    You may be represented by counsel in small claims court, at least in New York.

    To my knowledge, you cannot seek ‘punitive’ damages in these forums; if you are using court papers claiming outlandish amounts of money simply to get a company’s attention, that is a waste of the court system’s resources and may be considered a frivolous lawsuit. (even if the case settles, there is work involved on the part of clerks, officers and the like behind the scenes on any case filed in court.) I would no doubt take a case to small claims court for a legitmate unresolved claim; I would not use it to generate a windfall for yourself. You had me, you lost me.

    • Bob says:

      This is exactly what this article is talking about. He sued for provable actual damages, plus anything else that was provably reasonable. Each state is different but I can’t imagine Big American Bank sending an attorney to challenge your lawsuit in small claims lawsuit for $80 (plus maybe pennies in interest) in overdraft charges that should not have been posted as per their own rules and you can prove the company is stonewalling you in making a resolution.

  7. scoosdad says:

    And how is this approach impacted by all these binding arbitration clauses found in end user agreements? I’m surprised that T-Mobile doesn’t have them or chose not to enforce it in this case.

  8. ShortBus says:

    “It important to note that corporations can’t use an attorney in small claims… In small claims, they are stripped of their lawyers and the odds are in favor of the consumer.”

    That’s not correct. As an individual, in many jurisdictions *you* can’t have a lawyer (though in some states you can), a corporation can. A corporation is a legal person, but since it can’t very well speak for itself since it only exists on paper, a lawyer fills in nicely.

    And the company doesn’t have to fly anyone out, they can just hire a local attorney. But it’s often just cheaper to pay you off.

  9. NTC-Brendan says:

    In Texas attorneys are allowed. Some good information and some entertaining antic dotes about a consumer getting his from The Man. I would avoid making sweeping generalizations about court and the availability of council moving forward.

    [www.consumeraffairs.com]

  10. Myotheralt says:

    “We’re not talking about spurious claims and people trying to unfairly profit.”

    Works for RIAA

  11. loganmo says:

    If you live in Washington, DC, and wish to sue a corporation, the following link contains a tool whereby you can look up the legal service agent for every corporation registered to do business in DC. This is the address that your civil complaint will be served to.

    [mblr.dc.gov]

  12. tylerk4 says:

    California prohibits parties in a small claims action from hiring attorneys for the sole purpose of representing them in that court. This does not prevent in-house counsel for a corporation from appearing on the corporation’s behalf, as long as he’s an officer of said corporation.

  13. snoop-blog says:

    great article ben. like your comments at the end especially.

  14. Laffy Daffy says:

    @mir777: To my knowledge, you cannot seek ‘punitive’ damages in these forums

    I have sued a few times in small claims court when insurers didn’t follow through after minor car accidents. I only got money for actual damages and court costs. I had to get the car fixed first and incur the monetary loss; I couldn’t sue for an estimate of what it would cost to fix. The second time I sued, the insurance company tried to get the suit dropped after going behind my back to contact my insurance company (I didn’t want to get it involved to preserve my record.) I complained to the judge and he went kinda mideval on the other attorney. It was very satisfying.

  15. sleepydumbdude says:

    I took Best Buy to small claims before when they screwed up my computer 8 years ago. This is in Indiana. I was going to just buy a new computer because it wasn’t great to begin with but my neighbor who was a judge recommend going to court.It never made it to court and I got a call from someone at Best Buy several days before and got a brand new PC that was 2-3 times faster.

  16. DallasDMD says:

    @scoosdad: Just speculating here but for a lot of these claims, its easier for the company to settle a dispute than to fly out and file a motion for dismissal based on an arbitration clause.

  17. quail says:

    @ShortBus: That’s important, making sure that it’s cheaper to pay you off than to spend resources on the claim.

  18. CurbRunner says:

    I believe that if you win a claim against another party in small claims court and they fail to pay you afterwards, that you can send a copy of the judgment in your favor to the three major credit reporting agencies (letting them know of the failure to pay you), where it will be recorded and the other party’s credit will be damaged until they pay you.

    • Greg Ohio says:

      The 3 major credit reporting agencies report on individuals, not businesses. Dun & Bradstreet reports on businesses, and they do pick up judgments. However, every business of any size gets sued from time to time, so this doesn’t carry much weight unless its a large amount.

  19. Greasy Thumb Guzik says:

    It costs a lot more than that in Chicago [Cook County Circuit Court].
    I think it’s closer to $75 to file in Pro Se court.
    About $20 is for the certified mail notice to the defendant. If you want a deputy sheriff to hand deliver, it’s a lot more.
    The plaintiff can’t have an attorney there, but the defendant can.
    The judge is more informal here & assumes you don’t know a lot about the law, much like “The Peoples Court”.
    The limit is definitely under $5000, maybe less, I’ve forgotten.

    For larger amounts you use Small Claims Court.
    I don’t know what the filing fee is there, but both sides get to have lawyers.
    I sat there one morning watching, most of the cases were various loan companies getting judgments against a defaulting debtor. Mostly on cars, most for less than $2000.
    The few cases filed without a lawyer were heard last, probably to punish them for not hiring some shyster.

  20. Aladdyn says:

    @CurbRunner: Ive heard that you can have a sheriff seize property from the business that you win a judgement against if they dont pay up. The example i heard was some guy won against a bar owner for something or other and the owner wouldnt pay him the 500 or so. So the guy went in on a friday night with a sheriff and seized the owners liquor license. He got his money within minutes after that. Wonder if you could go into best buy and have a sheriff start seizing cash registers, that would be fun.

  21. lalawgirl says:

    @JustRunTheDamnBallBillick.:

    Not in California.

  22. Fred78 says:

    “It important to note that corporations can’t use an attorney in small claims and they have to send (fly) a representative that is NOT fully versed on the facts.”

    Sounds like a con game to me.

  23. themediatrix says:

    Why didn’t I think of this! Sprint has made my life hell by lying to me and saying they were terminating my account (at the time my contract was up), then billing me anyway for an extra year PLUS early term fees. I’ve refused to pay this and it has harmed my credit.

    Now I have the answer!!

  24. StevieD says:

    @tylerk4:

    Well said.

    And since one of my major suppliers is OWNED by a lawyer, go ahead and sue the company…. the owner will show up.

  25. Me - now with more humidity says:

    NTC: Maybe you should learn to spell “counsel.”

  26. Oregon says:

    Oregon is a state where attorneys are not allowed in Small Claims Court.
    I like the concept of taking them to Small Claims. Even if they use an attorney to defend (if Allowed) the cost of an attorney getting prepared for a case, the time waiting to have the case called, is easily going to run 3-5k for any company. I can see where having a legit claim, computer company will not repair your laptop under warranty alleging it was damaged by you. Small Claims may be a better way to go then 4 months of BS with the company.. I could see where this would be a legit avenue.

  27. pylon83 says:

    I’m sorry, but what the OP is doing is basically extortion. He’s asking for far more than he knows he is owed, and doing so knowing that they will just pay it rather than try to fight. You can’t seek punitive damages in a contract case, unless fraud is involved. These basically amount to contract disputes. Basically, he knows he doesn’t have a good-faith claim for the amount in question but is choosing to pursue it anyway. These kind of lawsuits are frivolous, a waste of the legal systems resources, and generally bad for the consumer. That $3,000 T-Mobile sent you has to come from somewhere. Further, the idea that you are owed compensation for spending time trying to work out a billing issue is beyond me. What if every time YOU screwed up and T-Mobile had to fix it they billed you for their time? Next time you lose your phone, and someone from T-Mobile has to go in and fix your account, look for fraudulent calls, etc. they send you a bill for $100/hr. It’s absurd.
    Finally, the issue of lawyers in small claims court varies heavily by jurisdiction. In Kansas, it even depends on the county. The filing fee’s also vary, and can exceed $100, depending on the jurisdiction. Finally, if you sue someone who is a resident of another state, and they have no property within the state in which the judgment is issued, you have to file a foreign judgment in the jurisdiction in which they reside before you can forcibly collect the funds. This can cost well over $100.
    I’m not saying Small Claims court is a bad idea at all, I’m simply saying what the OP is doing is a blatant abuse of the system.

  28. kbarrett says:

    I’ve dealt with a large company that decided to just ignore a default judgment ( they didn’t show for small claims court, and then ignored my demand letter ).

    I filed a writ of garnishment for information ( loser has to show up before the judge and answer my questions about their assets ), and delivered the notice by means of a Nordstroms gift box sent via certified mail.

    They signed for it … and when they realized what they had signed for ( a writ that gave the company VP a choice between flying from Dallas TX to Hillsboro OR to talk to a judge, or a bench warrant for his arrest ), they sent a check for the judgement via express mail.

  29. kbarrett says:

    @CURBRUNNER:

    File a writ of garnishment for information.

    He has to show up to explain to the judge why he can’t pay … or be dragged in in chains on a bench warrant.

  30. LawyerontheDL says:

    The reason for the companies settling has little, if anything to do with the company being “stripped of its lawyer.” Firstly, most companies have lawyers on staff and those people can represent the company in any jurisdiction, as a representative of the company. The reason that companies settle are (1) the cost of having a representative appear (who can be fully coached by an attorney, if necessary) (2) the cost of having legal counsel involved and, most importantly, (3) avoiding the possible repercussions of a negative decision. In other words, I find that most companies want to avoid a court, even the Town of East Bumble Justice Court, issuing a decision that the companies’ contract or business practices are improper or illegal. By settling out of court, there is no determination of liability. Of course, the later only comes into play if you have a real basis for the action.

    That said, if a company is really wrongly giving you a hard time, small claims court can be a great opportunity. Just make sure that you determine what is involved in getting the summons served. The $30 filing fee isn’t much, but $60 to a process server across the country added on and you’re starting to get up there.

  31. JasonKeiderling says:

    I had a problem with Netbank around 2001. Basically they stole a few hundred dollars out of my account from my account. I don’t remember where I got my info, but I was told that if I wanted to sue them in small claims court I would have to do so in Alpharetta, Georgia as that is wher the bank is (ie, where the problem occured). Does anyone know if I was misinformed?

  32. xxjudgmentxx says:

    it doesn’t say anywhere in the article that the company isn’t allowed a lawyer, it is just saying that, 9 times out of 10, huge companies aren’t going to bother sending one.

    also, whoever was saying they were suing a former employer who sent a lawyer…your employer was probably in the same state you were suing them in right? obviously they were going to send out a lawyer. that and suing your employer is vastly different that suing a giant company.

  33. “It important to note that corporations can’t use an attorney in small claims and they have to send (fly) a representative that is NOT fully versed on the facts.”

    Some states permit lawyers, some states forbid them. And, as someone else noted, you can sometimes be bumped into a different court.

    Also in my jurisdiction it costs $298 to file a small claims case. (If it cost $24 I’d probably be there every three days contributing to the litigiousness of American society!)

    I’ll also give this warning horror-story: I had a client who sued basically under the rationale state above — there was no way on God’s green earth a multi-billion-dollar corporation was going to spend large amounts of money to litigate a $7000 (and very clear-cut) claim, in the middle of nowhere, where they’ll have to hire local counsel or send regional counsel out and pay to put them up.

    Ha ha ha, we were ever wrong. By the time I handed the case off to another attorney (they bumped us from small claims to FEDERAL COURT! we were of course arguing that we’d been improperly moved, they were counter-arguing, and while I’m admitted in federal court, that’s mostly just for pretty, so I handed it off to an attorney with actual federal court experience), they were well over $40,000 in the hole in lawyers’ fees litigating a $7,000 claim AND WE WERE STILL PLAYING PRELIMINARY JURISDICTION GAMES. Last I heard they’re 24 months in and something well over $100,000 in lawyers’ fees, and they still haven’t gotten to trying the facts — the corporation is still playing legal games.

    So I learned two important things here: 1) Don’t file on the assumption that the corporation won’t respond. (And don’t TAKE THOSE CASES!) Assume they will, and call it Christmas if they don’t bother. 2) Don’t invest in that company, because they’re way irresponsible in money management and customer care.

  34. gingerCE says:

    This guy sounds like a nut–very sue happy. I wonder how many small claim cases he’s filed against small businesses and individual people.

  35. Boberto says:

    My record of success in small claims court:
    Apple computer (4 logic board failures)
    Comp USA (Tap Warranty)
    Sprint (3 years of overcharges/dropped calls)
    Allstate Ins. (denial of claim)
    Travelers Ins. (wouldn’t pay holdback of claim)
    New York Central Mutual Ins. (denial of claim)
    Carpet Smart (wrong size ordered/installed)
    New York Reciprocal (denial of claim)
    Kwik Fill (medical expenses)

    And so on and so on.

    So the Cat’s out of the bag on the best kept secret of consumer empowerment.

    Of the cases I cite, about half settled and half chose to litigate. In EVERY case, I prevailed.

    To those who may criticize for being litigious, I offer you this;
    My time is valuable. In every case I’ve taken to court, I’ve offered fair warning prior to initiating legal action.
    I absolutely refuse to jump through the ridiculous hoops, hold times, ignorant CSR’s. Every minute spent on hold and arguing/begging for MY money is one STOLEN from my children.

    My advise: DO NOT file unless you are 100% committed, ready, willing and able to fulfill your obligation to the Court. Prove your case.

  36. gingerCE says:

    @pylon83: I agree–he should be made whole–not make a profit–it sounds like extortion. Almost like a scam.

  37. gingerCE says:

    @boberto: Wow–why did so many insurance companies deny your claim? I’ve never had an insurance company deny a claim of mine.

  38. pylon83 says:

    @gingerCE:
    A scam is exactly what it is. Even the way it’s written, he’s proud that he’s stealing money from the corporation, and it’s clear he knows he doesn’t deserve it. He’s basically a two-bit con man.

  39. LadyMin says:

    Oh yeah… in some states they will bump you to a higher court to intimidate you so you will hopefully go away.

    I sued my health insurance company to get them to pay a claim and they moved the case to Federal Court under the ERISA statutes. They continued the case NINE times before the Federal Judge had enough of it and asked us to move to mediation. This was fine with me, I just wanted my claim paid.

    Eventually they paid. But I still wonder how much money they spent defending a $5,000 claim in Federal Court.

  40. LAGirl says:

    in Los Angeles county, you never even need to go to court. everything can be done online + by mail. the maximum you can ask for, per calendar year, is $7500:

    *you can file your claim online. choose your court date, pay the fee + print out your paperwork.

    *serve the other party. if you’re suing a company or corporation, you can serve by certified mail, which will save you the process server fee.

    *you need to file proof of service by the court date. however, the judge will accept proof of service on the day of your scheduled hearing. if the company settles, you won’t even need to file proof of service.

    [www.lasuperiorcourt.org]

  41. snoop-blog says:

    @pylon83: and those corporations are made up of saints and would never dare do anything that would be illegal in the name of profit. fight fire with fire. maybe it takes a two-bit con man to fight a company of them. way to ‘bite back’ op.

  42. Boberto says:

    @gingerCE: Many different reasons. For awhile during the early 90′s it was Allstates (and many others) blanket policy to just simply deny claims. Also, I am particularly adept at pursuing claims that most people would otherwise just let go of. A construction truck throwing stones. A flatbed once had rail fly off. Another time a bucket of stones fell off of a work truck. All caused damage. All were documented with my camera phone in real time.
    I drive somewhat of a nice vehicle, and many many miles for my job. It is always worth it to pursue payment for even the most minute damage, because over time my car will look like it was entered in a demolition derby.

    Once confronted with the very real possibility of losing in court, most smart Lawyers will come to their senses.

    Other times, large corporations have legal counsel on retainer and figure, “hey, we’re paying a lawyer anyway, what have we got to lose”. This is when I have a very serious “come to Jesus” with opposing counsel. I lay out the implications that losing in small claims will have. Both personally and professionally. Not pretty.

    I also enjoy great strategies in the court room that yield success. If you are to treat the Judge with great respect, then you are to treat your opposition with even greater respect. Answer all questions directly and succinctly. Common sense? Maybe, but try sitting in a small claims court for a session. Emotions run rampant, people can never give straight answers. It really drags on.

  43. Tank says:

    In Illinois, a corporation MUST have an attorney represent them. I was credit manager for a corporation where I live, and found out the hard way. We (my bosses and myself) thought just being an employee was enough – I was informed by the judge this is practicing law without a license and my case would be dismissed if I didn’t have an attorney. I walked outside the courtroom and hired an attorney on the spot.

  44. Dave! says:

    The fee information is misleading, too. Court filing fees vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. In some jurisdictions, they actually are on a sliding scale, based on the amount in controversy.

    Really, Consumerist, the info is valuable, but some fact checking should be in order when you run these types of articles.

  45. snoop-blog says:

    @Dave!: yeah why should i be responsible to do my own fact checking. i mean i read it on the internet, so, it must be fact right?

  46. cbbrowne says:

    In the T-Mobile case, at least, it sounded as though the fellow had paid in at least $3000, so there, it is not apparent that there was any attempt at “punitive damages.” If he bought two “smartphones” that never did work, I’m not sure the amount is at all out of line.

    In the banking scenario, it’s not well documented what the side effects of the overdraft were. $2000 may be punitive, but we don’t know for sure.

  47. Jaysyn was banned for: http://consumerist.com/5032912/the-subprime-meltdown-will-be-nothing-compared-to-the-prime-meltdown#c7042646 says:

    @pylon83: You sound like one of the corporate shills that lurk around the Consumerist.

  48. MeOhMy says:

    So a bank cheats you, you stick it to them in court, you’re the con man? If your state allows you to seek punitive damages, you should. Maybe the businesses to whom we pay good money in exchange for their products would be less cavalier about “accidentally” screwing up your bill if they thought you might stick them for $2000 in damages. It’s not like you can send a large bank to jail for 30 days to teach them a lesson.

    One of the less-visible problems with our crazy litigious society is that not only is everyone filing whackass lawsuits, but when someone who actually has a legitimate claim actually uses the system in good faith, people assume the opposite by default.

  49. pylon83 says:

    @cbbrowne:
    The guy is asking T-Mobile to pay him for dealing with them. That’s simply unreasonable. A company should not have to worry about compensating a customer for “their time” beyond a small service credit. There are jerks out there who think they should be paid $50/hr to talk to someone on the phone about a billing issue. That’s absolutely absurd. I’m sorry, you are owed nothing for having to hash out service problems. I come back to my question of what happnes when you call in, you are wrong, and the company then decides they are going to charge you for their time? If T-Mobile did it that way, I’d perhaps agree that the customer should also be compensated. Otherwise, it’s a stupid demand.

  50. pylon83 says:

    @Troy F.:
    I simply don’t understand why people can’t be happy with just being made whole again. Why are punitive damages necessary? Most people who seek them aren’t doing so in a “teach the corporation a less” fashion anyway. They are seeking them to make a buck. That’s why guys like the OP are con men. He’s proud that he’s been successful in extorting a profit out of the big bad corporation.

  51. chiieddy says:

    @brent_w: Check your statute of limitations. It might not be too late to take them to court.

  52. captbob says:

    Here are some great small claims court resources:

    HALT: [www.halt.org]

    (Their Small Claims Court handbook has state by state appendicies detailing fees, representation, etc).

    Nolo Press: [search.nolo.com]

  53. snoop-blog says:

    @pylon83: i’m proud of him as well. great job op!

  54. snoop-blog says:

    @Jaysyn: nice! call’em like you see’em.

  55. ideagirl says:

    @pylon83: You’ve obviously never had to deal with T-mobile.

  56. snoop-blog says:

    @ideagirl: and his time isn’t worth a penny- even he admits that.

  57. mcQuaidLA says:

    Pylon83, your sympathy for our much-maligned service providers is truly, truly, touching. Frankly, I think I should be compensated for having to take the time to even read a blog like the Consumerist, because if our companies were run right, and our Regulatory Agencies figured out that they’re supposed to be protecting us, not acting in loco parentis for the Chamber of Commerce, the Consumerist would be a place where everyone shared nothing but stories about how each service-provider was trying to outdo every other service provider in giving incredible Customer Service and in Product Improvement.

    The typical Consumerist post would read: “OMG! Did you see where ATT wireless is actually promising a nickel and an automatic re-dial every time they drop a call?” which would be countered with “Oh, that’s nothing, T-mobile screwed up my bill, but because I’ve been such an excellent customer for the past two years, they just decided to subtract the amount they screwed up from the actual correct total and they’re sending me a coupon for a 25 percent discount on my next phone.” And so on, and so on.

    Since that’s not the case, it is really our duty as consumers to take action as often as possible to compel these entities to live up to their obligations. They should compensate us for our time (mine is certainly valuable) our gas, and any outlays we furnish in getting them to do what they should be doing in the first place. What’s the problem with that?

  58. pylon83 says:

    @snoop-blog:
    It has nothing to do with what my time is worth. I didn’t say my time is worth nothing. I said that it’s unreasonable to expect them to give you cash for dealing with them on the phone. I think a small service credit is all that is necessary to make you whole. Dealing with customer service is simply part of your choice to do business with a company. Demanding that they give you a paycheck for calling them is unreasonable.

  59. pylon83 says:

    @mcQuaidLA:
    It’s simply absurd, that’s the problem. Look, you enter into a contractual relationship with them. They agree to provide a service, you agree to pay them. If they screw up on the billing every now and then, so be it. If you pay your bill late every now and then, so be it. It’s a give and take. When you screw up and call them, they don’t demand to be compensated for taking the time to work out your issue. You losing your phone in synonymous with them screwing up your billing. It happens. Now, when you lose your phone, do they bill you for the time it takes them to cancel you account, do any requisite research, walk down the hall, get a form, fill it out, arrange to have a new phone sent to you? No. It’s just part of the relationship. For you to expect them to pay you is just as ridiculous a proposition. Further, your assertion that the government should be more involved is just as obtuse. More government meddling in private business matters is not the solution. First off, we have to pay for that meddling with taxes. Second, since the company now incurs costs because of that oversight, we pay more administrative fees. It results in higher costs all around. I still can’t fathom why people think they deserve to profit from the companies screwup. Once you’ve been made whole, there should be no further expectation of compensation. While your time is valuable, you aren’t really losing any of it dealing with these issues. You’re make phone calls while your in the car, or sitting in front of the TV. It’s not like your having to punch out of work to make the calls and ACTUALLY losing money. Your idle time does not deserve compensation. And if you are making these calls to places that have near 24 hour customer service at a time that is inconvenient for you, that seems like a problem of your own making.

  60. billco says:

    @Pylon83, I also feel the OP is bragging about screwing businesses, but I wouldn’t be so quick to defend the telecoms. They DO charge us for every silly little interaction, in the form of endless service charges. Let’s take cell phones for example:

    Unlocking a phone you already own, so you can use your property with a competitor’s network ? $25.

    Registering a new phone on your existing account (e.g. warranty replacement) ? another $25.

    Change of ownership ? guess what, $25!

    And what about the suspiciously frequent billing errors ? I haven’t changed anything about my cable, phone and internet services in two years, yet I’ve had to call customer service at least 6 times during that period to have mysterious surcharges corrected. These companies are supposed to have extensive databases and a whole batallion of accountants on staff, so why am I, a laid-back techie, the one fixing their mistakes ?

    I don’t agree with this attitude of sticking it to everyone and anyone, but let’s face it: corporations don’t care about the people they cheat, they only care about the bottom line. You can’t win against such a soulless beast by playing nice – you have to beat them at their game. That means lowering down to their level, nickel and dime them if you must. This corporate tyranny is customer abuse and people have to do something about it. If taking them to court is a means to an end, I say do it.

  61. dantsea says:

    Another thing to bear in mind is that small claims is almost always a court of equity, not a court of law. A company can send in a lawyer to make legal arguments, but the judge (who usually isn’t required to have any sort of legal background at this level) can simply decide what’s fair and base his decision on that, end of story. Most large companies realize that many of their punitive policies are inherently unfair, that sending in the legal guns is always going to cost more than simply paying up, and (much to the annoyance of our resident pro-corporate shills) choose to settle than spend even more money in a fight they cannot win.

  62. Buran says:

    @pylon83: They’re there to stop wrongdoers from just saying “well, that’s the cost of doing business” and just keep on cheating. In theory, anyway. In practice the punitive damages are way too small in many cases to actually do that.

    I also can’t blame this guy — the civil court system is the one we have for making things right when wrongdoers just ignore you and think they can get away with what they do. It mostly (see exception above) works as designed. Good for him that he’s doing something instead of just sitting around and griping on a blog like most people do.

  63. MrWashy says:

    Ok, first off, read the other comments people. Several of you posted the same thing, i.e. that attorneys in small claims depends on the state/county/municipality, etc… It gets redundant.

    Secondly the word is anecdote, not antic dote.

    Thridly, does who really cares if he got a little extra from WaMu? Seriously folks, you’re being holier than thou. Look at how much large companies take from your pockets in assorted fees (like collecting a tax or allowing you to pay by phone, etc…) without delivering an actual service for those fees. Please. If someone gets a little extra juice from them, then good. (Now if you’re talking about suing the DQ down the street, then forget the vig. Don’t try to screw the small guy.)

  64. FalconFXR says:

    Well small claims is not a guarantee against big companies. I went after a Ford dealership after they reinstalled my Ford Ranger Transmission incorrectly after a Factory recall maintenance procedure, leaving the tranny a smoking heap and me stranded after driving it for 4 weeks. The dealership was supported by Ford who flew in a “transmission expert” that even gutted the testimony of a service manager at a second Ford dealership that I had install a new transmission and explained in court what was done incorrectly. No settlement, no warm fuzzy feeling. I now drive a Chevrolet.

  65. pylon83 says:

    @dantc:
    You’re confusing the concept of equity and law. Courts of equity can only give equitable relief (specific performance, injunctions, etc.). Courts of Law give money damages. Small claims court is usually a “general” court that can hear both types of cases. You’re also over-simplifying the “Fairness” principal that is used in equity.

  66. MeOhMy says:

    @pylon83:

    I said that it’s unreasonable to expect them to give you cash for dealing with them on the phone. I think a small service credit is all that is necessary to make you whole.

    You’re right. Except for the fact that for must of us, when you’ve been given enough of a runaround and you’re steamed enough to file a court action against the provider, the “correcting the bill and a free month of service” ship left the port a lont time ago. At this point in time, I would not be happy just getting the $250 T-Mobile owes me, for instance.

    The supreme irony is that you go on about what it costs the company to do business with you. You imply that you are NOT charged a late fee when you pay late. And you seem to forget that if you stopped paying your bill they would either take you to court themselves or get a collection agency to do it for them.

    I don’t need to address the “cost of your time” debate. Punitive damages are punitive damages – a fine for the screwup to make you think twice about it. It is, by definition, above and beyond what it would cost to make the plaintiff “whole.” Would you feel better if the plaintiff donated the punitive damages to a charitable cause?

    If your jurisdiction allows you to seek punitive damages in small claims court, then go ahead and show them you mean business.

  67. Curiosity says:

    @pylon83:

    Good points though I think that most ppl misconstrued them a bit.

    You are not only advocating that there be an honest and slightly forgiving arrangement between the people in a business relationship, but also that the company isn’t always against the consumer. Your hinting at the fact businessmen are human is the “No No” people have a problem with.

    Do most people get that in order to be consumers, generally you have to work in some capacity in business.

    Are people tense b/c they equate business to a social divide? Are they upset because they would rather sc-w others than be sc-wed themselves? Or are they mad b/c the partnership and the agreement has signs of bad faith?

  68. pylon83 says:

    @Curiosity:
    Finally someone who seems to at least grasp what I’m saying. It’s the “I’m out to get the company because I perceive them to be out to get me” attitude that infuriates me. Granted, there are *some* companies out there who are simply scum. But I truly believe those are few and far between. Most companies are not “out to get you.” They don’t hold secret meetings on how to screw their customers. There are not manuals on how to pull one over on their subscribers. There are simply mistakes that snowball, usually due to poor training of their representatives. In a way, the right hand doesn’t know what the left is doing. I’m not saying that’s a good thing, however it doesn’t make the company “out to get you.” They are businesses. They are out to make a profit. People forget that sometimes when they make demands that would be unprofitable for the company to comply with. People who expects months of free service for a relatively minor screw up. Where is the honesty and fair dealing on the part of the consumer? You can’t have it both ways, expecting them to play nice if you don’t. And I know some will say “they started it”, but that’s as childish as it sounds. Take the higher ground so to speak. Rarely is it really and truly necessary to involve the legal system. People get frustrated, lazy, and give up on working out an amicable solution.

  69. RulesLawyer says:

    @Aladdyn:

    Wonder if you could go into best buy and have a sheriff start seizing cash registers, that would be fun.

    Yup. After you get a judgment in your favor, you then ask the judge for a writ of execution. With that writ, you go to the local sheriff (or for a federal case, the US marshal) and then you go with him to the business and direct him to open the cash register and take the cash. It’s called a till tap.

    From what I’ve heard, yeah, it’s a lot of fun. It seems to be most commonly used with nightclubs and bars, and to make sure that there’s enough money, they’ll usually go in around closing time.

  70. Curiosity says:

    @pylon83:

    The real question is when are the companies scum?

    I am not so sure that all companies are not out to screw the consumer, but it is pretty obvious that some are. (note anti-trust concerns [www.usdoj.gov]).

    Moreover even if they are not willful some corporations are either negligent, ignorant, or just stupid about how they deal with their customers.

    Either which way, it comes down to what causes people to not trust corporations and why and what is the proper JUST remedy.

    However, I find interesting that consumers can validly use the rational that corporations use to justify a large amount of their anti consumer activity – the corporations willingly bear the costs of such litigation or settlements rather than lose their potentially excessive profits (businesses state that consumers bear the increased costs of X or Y and that the price increase is valid b/c the consumers tolerate it so they can benefit from the goods).

    So is what is good for the goose good for the gander?

    However this sc-w your neighbor philosophy if they sc-w you obviously breaks down if either one of the parties is nice and are trying to (ironically) maximize each others wealth.

    And as a note that is what business should be – making it so that in providing a product and a stable income you create a net effect so that when others grow you grow as well (symbiosis not parasitic).

  71. Curiosity says:

    @pylon83:
    Btw while ideally you shouldn’t need the legal system, it is there for a good reason – people are idiotic enough not to realize what is in their own best interests and that includes businesses.

  72. mauriceh says:

    @PYLON83 Wrote:
    “I simply don’t understand why people can’t be happy with just being made whole again. Why are punitive damages necessary?”

    The answer to that is:
    “To stop the bad guys from playing the averages.”

    Most people, even when they know they are wronged, even when they hold overwhelming evidence, and an iron clad case, would never dream of suing. Heck, most would pee themselves at the thought of phoning and complaining!
    With punitive damages we are asserting the fact that the few that do have the guts, the determination, and the wherewithal effectively represent us.
    We are saying: “If you do people wrong, and get caught at it, it will be expensive.”

    PYTHON83 Also Wrote:
    “Most people who seek them aren’t doing so in a “teach the corporation a less” fashion anyway. They are seeking them to make a buck. That’s why guys like the OP are con men. He’s proud that he’s been successful in extorting a profit out of the big bad corporation.”

    And you sir, are one of the “Suckers” who would not do anything more than complain.

    By showering derision and doubt on the writer you show your true colors: A Coward.

    Next time you bend over for pone of the big utilities or banks, please call us, I am sure some would love to get in the lineup behind you..

  73. dantsea says:

    @pylon83: I’m not surprised that you’d have an issue with the definition. Regardless, I’m more right than wrong.

  74. mcQuaidLA says:

    Pylon, I think your sympathy is misplaced. Touching, but misplaced. I’m curious which Republican candidate you’re planning to vote for for President, though.

  75. ladylarkoflunacy says:

    OK, OK so the guy mis-spoke about where and when lawyers are allowed – YES some states allow attorneys..BIG DEAL! In small claims courts the judge acts in your behalf if you are up against a lawyer and it’s NOTHING like you see on TV or in higher courts, in fact the judges tend to DISLIKE dealing with lawyers in this court system. So many of you seem to be looking for the gotcha here! There is none! Don’t get distracted and miss this writers great point!
    Small claims court works for those of us who will take the time to fill out some paperwork, pay some fees (of which you get reimbursed in the settlement)and mail it to the courts. No CON here! I’ve done it many times! Want to win? My advice – Always get the name of the MANAGER’s Manager! Always send a certified letter to THAT person and give them a chance to rectify the problem first. This ALWAYS works in your favor and shows the court that you had NO OPTION but to go to court! JUDGES LOVE THAT!

  76. Birdpatch says:

    - IMPORTANT QUESTION -
    In taking a company to court, which individual person should be listed on the small claims form as the person being sued? I am taking an insurance company to small claims court for blatantly denying a claim that they are so obviously responsible for covering. My paperwork asks specifically WHO I am suing. Would it be the adjuster who denied the claim? Can I simply list the insurance company and let them choose who will represent them?

    I can be reached via email at: tracey@birdpatch.com
    I will also watch this site for posted answers.

    Thank you so much, Tracey

  77. liquiddamage says:

    I’ve only every had to threaten court by sending a kindly worded demand letter.

    I have to agree with the OP. When companies treat you unfairly or poorly by having long hold times and refusing to solve your problem or penalizing you for early termination instead of making you want to stay. Or refusing warranty service (which I’m currently dealing with AppleCare) they run the risk of suit. Toiling away with CSR after CSR and spending hours on hold shouldn’t be our duty as consumers.

    Of course most of us will take reasonable steps to resolve the issue before heading off to court or even sending a demand letter. But at some point it’s too much for the consumer to bear. A rule of thumb I have, is I’ll try to go through the process once in good faith. But if the company refuses to right the wrong let’s have the judge work it out instead of getting the run around again and again from the company.

    My demand letters have included:
    (1) Health insurance providers that didn’t pay claims citing an “maximum allowable amount”

    (2) A medical group that billed me for seeing the doctor exactly one year after I had actually seen the doctor.

    (3) A mortgage company that sold my loan twice, where the second holder insisted I was in default and would not help me over the phone one iota after hours on hold. (they also treat you fairly nasty when they think you are in default)

    (4) An employer that refused to cut a check for accrued vacation pay.

    (5) An online vendor that refused to cancel an order and simply sent it anyway.

    (6) And my latest AppleCare not wanting to service a warranty. Will it come to Small Claims Ct. I don’t know.

    But it’s clear to me that we consumers should be way more vigilant in pursuing these actions so as to deter this sort of bad behavior.

  78. liquiddamage says:

    I should add that for each one of those examples until I pushed it all the way to the demand letter each of those companies insisted that they were right and I was wrong.

  79. OPWriter2008 says:

    @scoosdad:

    Manditory Arbitration is not enforceable in small claims here in Washington.

  80. OPWriter2008 says:

    To All comments:

    I’m Bill, the person that prompted this story.

    In Washington, an attorny is not allowed to set foot in small claims unles they are suing for their own or being sued directly.

    I have never sued a small company (small = 50 employees or less).

    In all the three cases I mentioned here, they offered to settle. End of case. They had the chance to defend themselves, tell the court they are not required to pay punitive damages. They had the chance to move these cases to a higher court. BUT, they decided to do none this. This was THEIR decision. THEY chose to loose and that is that.

    Letigious you say that I am? YOU BET I AM! Corporate America has taught me well and like a good student, I learned how to WIN. Every tactic at my disposal is used to that end. In a state where our politicians SUE the voters, I see no problem suing goverment and corporations at the drop of a hat.

    Should I profit from suing? YOU BET I SHOULD! Lawyers, banks, elected officials, insurance companies profit all the time from suing people, why shouldn’t I?

    For all you complainers moaning about what I do, there is a distinct difference between me and you. I DO SOMETHING. You are no more than a critic, a sucker that will forever complain that someone is not doing enough while you sit and do nothing.

    Nobody writes about persons that play it safe.

    -Bill

  81. Oregon_Bill says:

    Bill, you’re a man after my own heart. Found this website completely by an interesting coincidence. I am making preparations to take Washington Mutual to small claims and encountered what may be a problem. When I undertook to look up their registered agent, I found that Washington Mutual is not required to register in WA. Sec’y of State says that is because they are a federal bank. What’s with that? Any comment?

  82. OPWriter2008 says:

    Washington Mutual Registered Agent:

    Registered Agent Information
    Agent Name SUSAN R TAYLOR
    Address 1301 2ND AVE
    WMC 3501
    City SEATTLE
    State WA
    ZIP 98101

  83. OPWriter2008 says:

    @Pylon83:

    I agree that companies are not out to get anyone. But they ARE out to get all the money they can from anyone, any way that they can.

    You state “I’m sorry, but what the OP is doing is basically extortion.” EXTORTION: to obtain from a person by force, intimidation, or undue or illegal power: to gain especially by ingenuity or compelling argument…….. “Basically”

    By this definition;
    -Any company that ALWAYS seems to make errors in THEIR favor is EXTORTING money from their customers. But this is not a crime; it’s a simple civil mater.
    -A prosecutor that makes deals with criminals to get a confession in exchange for a lesser punishment is also extortion. Again, this is an absolutely legal form of extortion.
    -An attorney that says they will sue someone if that person doesn’t correct the action disputed is also a perfectly legal form of extortion. Not only that, it’s a legal form of a threat.

    Extortion and threats are not necessarily illegal; in fact, they are an indispensible part of our legal system. This is a fact that has taken a front seat by the Bush administration. According to Bush’s ilk, it’s legal to extract information with torture; perfectly Ok to spy on Americans; legal to lock up Americans indefinably without a single hearing, no legal representation, no charges.

    In the last 25 years, our economy has shifted from the company that is rewarded for their hard work, innovation and good customer service to an economy that favors the tricky, the ones that have the most hidden fees, the ones that cheat and the ones that engage in predatory business practices.

    Extortion, threats, intimidation and sucker punching are all parts of my tool kit. I use these tools SHAMELESSLY to beat the opposition into submission because these are the tools used against me.

    NEVER bring a knife to a gun fight.

  84. bearfanrp says:

    One note, that in TX for an additional $5, you can request a Jury Trial, even in small claims court.

  85. shepd says:

    Well, there’s still people discussing this, and it’s an article on the main page, so:

    In Ontario, Canada, you may hire a lawyer or paralegal for small claims (either side). However, should damages awarded end up including the cost of the lawyer (which it usually doesn’t) the maximum, at least only a few years ago, is $300. For most cases, especially with big companies, this means there’s no point sending a lawyer as:

    Travel expenses + Legal fees – $300 > Cost of just settling.

    Even if the lawyer is not hired externally (and even huge companies like UPS don’t have their own personal team of lawyers, I know from suing them!) and is already on the payroll, that lawyer is tied up for a couple of days with travel arrangements, etc. It’s unlikely he doesn’t have something better to do with his time that makes the company a lot more money. :-)

  86. Anonymous says:

    I like that. Not too many consumers deal with the hassle. I had to do it with Experian (but that was in Federal Court)and yes, I will go after Chrysler next for not retuning my fees and not answering me in writing. I will give them 30 days to respond and get my fees back they were not supposed to charge me and a I’ll file in small claims. It $100 in fees but I don’t care. I have to pay 5 more years with these people I will not watch this add up because they think I will just ignore it.