Most personal injury attorneys will not accept a “small dollar value” car accident case. Your case is considered small if the total amount of your property damage is less than $2,000.00, and if you do not have any physical injuries.
However, if an attorney does not accept your case, do not give up. Instead, consider filing a small claims complaint to recover your damages if the insurance company refuses to pay. In North Carolina, the small claims court is part of the District Court Division, and the court assigns the cases to a magistrate judge for resolution.
You initiate the small claims process by filing a “Magistrate Summons,” or Form No. AOC-CVM-100, and a “Complaint for Money Owed,” or Form No. AOC-CVM-200. In Charlotte, North Carolina, you can file these forms with the small claims clerk on the 3rd Floor of the Mecklenburg County Courthouse, located at 832 East Fourth Street.
You can download PDF Fillable forms at the North Carolina Court System’s website, and mail them to the Clerk at P.O. Box 37971, Charlotte, North Carolina 28237-7971. However, it is often easier to file the forms in person for several reasons. First, the Clerk will require double-sided copies, which can be difficult to obtain unless you have a duplex printer available. Second, although the Clerk will not give you any legal advice, the Clerk can answer basic questions you may have about completing the forms. If you need additional assistance, the Self-Help Center is right around the corner, in Room 3350 of the Mecklenburg County Courthouse.
You will also need cash or a money order to pay the filing fees. At present, the complaint filing fee is $96.00 to file the lawsuit, plus $30.00 for each defendant for service of process (having the sheriff’s department deliver a copy to the defendant). The clerk will not accept personal checks. However, there is an ATM on the 2nd floor if you need it.
You will need the addresses for the defendant. If the defendant is an individual, you can use the defendant’s name and address from the “Driver Exchange Form” or the Police Accident Report (DMV-349). If the defendant is a company, you will need to do some research on the North Carolina Secretary of State’s website, and use the address for the company’s registered agent.
You will also need envelopes and stamps so that the clerk can mail you, and each defendant, a copy of the completed summons with the trial time, date, and location. I always try to bring extra envelopes, stamps, and cash in case I need them.
The small claims trials are typically on the 2nd floor of the Mecklenburg County Courthouse. Be sure to bring any receipts and other documents that help show how much you are owed. It is often a good idea to bring three copies so that you, the judge and the defendant can each have one. If you want to impress the judge, prepare an itemized list with the total amount from all of the receipts so that the judge does not have to get out a calculator and do the math for you.
If you win, the judgment automatically attaches to any real estate that the defendant owns in Mecklenburg County. If the defendant owns property in another county, you can have the Clerk of Court transcribe the judgment to that county by paying a small fee.
If you want to have the sheriff seize assets and sell them to satisfy your judgment, and if the defendant is an individual (not a company), then you must serve the defendant with a “Notice of Right to Have Exemptions Designated,” or Form No. AOC-CVM-406, and a “Motion to Claim Exempt Property,” or Form No. AOC-CVM-200. You can also find these forms at the North Carolina Court System’s website. The defendant has twenty days after service of the forms to fill them out and return them to the Clerk of Court. If the defendant does not respond, then the defendant’s property is fair game for execution. This exemption process is not necessary for a corporate defendant.
If you do not win, it is not the end of the world. You have ten days from the date of the judgment to appeal. If you appeal, then your case will be heard by a judge in the District Court.
A Guide to Small Claims Court is provided by Legal Aid of North Carolina.