Sometimes businesses are taken to court through the Small Claims process by consumers or other businesses. Among the reasons consumers and businesses use this legal avenue are that:
- It’s a relatively fast and easy way to resolve some types of dispute without having to use a solicitor
- It’s relatively cheap – the application fee is €25
- It’s convenient – the service is provided in a local district court office
Bear in mind that the court officials settle many cases through negotiation, without the case having to be listed for court.
On average, over half of all businesses that are taken to a court hearing through the Small Claims process lose their case. The maximum limit for a claim is €2,000.
Who can take a case against you
Claims can be made against you for faulty goods, bad workmanship or minor damage to property (but not personal injuries), by consumers and businesses you have dealt with.
Who can’t take a case
Claims over the non-return of rent deposits by landlords are now handled by the Private Residential Tenancies Board and are not dealt with by the Small Claims process.
The Small Claims process doesn’t deal with debts, personal injuries or breaches of leasing agreements.
How the Small Claims process works
The claimant submits the Small Claim form and application fee to the district court, and a clerk of the court called the Small Claims Registrar then processes the claim.
If your business has been named as a respondent, the Registrar then informs you about the claim.
You must reply to the claim within 15 calendar days. If you do not reply:
- The claim will be automatically treated as undisputed
- The district court will make an order against you for the amount claimed, and
- It will direct that the sum be paid within a short period of time
If you do reply to the claim, you have various options, such as:
- Admitting the claim, completing and returning a Notice of Acceptance of Liability to the Registrar and paying the sum via the Registrar
- Making payment conditional (for example, on the consumer returning some faulty goods)
- Seeking to pay the claimed amount in instalments
- Disputing the claim or counterclaiming. In this instance the Registrar then sends the claimant a copy of the Notice of Dispute and Counterclaim
- Where possible, the Registrar will interview and negotiate with you and the claimant to try to reach an agreement without the need for a court hearing.
If you are called to the Registrar’s office the meeting will be informal and private, and you don’t have to bring a solicitor – the whole point of the procedure is that claimants and businesses can resolve their differences without having to use a solicitor.
You may engage a solicitor, and the claimant may do likewise. But remember that if you do use one you will have to meet his/her costs even if you win the case.
The Registrar will probably ask you and the claimant to outline the facts, and ask you questions to clarify the issues. Bear in mind too that if you have already made an offer to the claimant, the Registrar will probably take this into account.
If the matter still cannot be settled, the Registrar may there and then fix a time and date for a hearing of the claim before a judge of the district court, if the claimant wishes.
The district court hearing
You must attend the district court hearing, which will be heard in public as part of a normal sitting of the court.
When your case is called the claimant will go into the witness box to give evidence. You can question (cross-examine) them on matters relating to their claim. The judge may require the Small Claims Registrar to assist the court at the hearing.
You will also be given an opportunity to give evidence, and this must be given under oath or affirmation.
Each witness can be subject to cross examination by the opposing party or their legal representatives. If you call experts or witnesses you may be liable for their costs.
Appealing the district court’s decision
Both the applicant and the respondent have the right to appeal an order of the district court to the circuit court. Costs may be awarded by the circuit court but that is a matter for the judge to decide.
Remember that the further up the legal system you and the claimant go after the small claims process, the increasing need for expert legal advice – which means mounting legal and other costs too. These can quickly outweigh the original sum in dispute.
You may need to seek independent legal advice if you are involved in a claim in other types of court.
See what a Small Claims form looks like
If you are a landlord and have a problem with a tenant, check out the Private Residential Tenancies Board’s disputes proceduresReturn to Guidelines for Business