How best to defend against a small claims suit?

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How best to defend against a small claims suit?

An ex-friend filed a small claim at Manhattan court offices against me for $500. I made arrangements to make payments according to my limited budget since I am a graduate student with only my stipend (I don’t work). I paid $100 towards the debt but she claims that I owed her the total amount. I would like to know if I go to court what would be my best defense? Can I set up payments? I don’t have the resources for making the total payment.

Asked on November 17, 2010 under Bankruptcy Law, New York

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 11 years ago | Contributor

If the debt is valid--i.e. if there are good grounds for it and you don't have a defense; e.g. say you borrowed $500 from her and didn't repay it when it was due--then there really is no defense. A creditor has a right to insist on payment in full, immediately, and in this context, "creditor" means anyone who has a valid claim  against you for a sum. You can offer payments, of course, and it may well be in her interest to take them; however, at the end of the day, she doesn't  have to. She can go to court, prove her case and her claim, get a judmgent against you for the full amount still due; then if you don't pay at that time and you stll can't work out a payment agreement with her, she could try to garnish wages or bank account, put a lien on property, etc.

Offer to set up the best and most agressive payments you can. Document your attempt to settle. If you can't bring your documentation to court and lay out for judge that you're willing to pay according to a structured settlement or over time. The judge may be able to get her to agree to it; of course, if she does, it will be put in writing and if you don't meet the terms, she can immediately go back to court to enforce it.


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