small claims court decision

UPDATED: Sep 30, 2022

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small claims court decision

I just received the judge’s decision rewarding the plaintiff in a small claims
case brought against me defendant – a hit and run case. The plaintiff was
awarded 1,298. The neighbor alleged I hit her car on 9/2014. She did not see
me hit her car,nor did she have a witness. She called the police department
the next day, and the police wrote a report. At the bottom of the police
report, the plaintiff signed a section saying she ‘will not in the future
prosecute’. By signing that statement, did the plaintiff waive her rights to
bring suit in the first place? Also, the plaintiff did not present pictures or
witnesses. She only presented an invoice stating the amount of cost for fixing
her car 1,298. I presented the above-mentioned police report, which did not
state that I certainly hit plaintiff’s car. My question is I am not certain
how the judge reached a judgment for the plaintiff without proof. Do I have a
possible case to appeal?

Asked on October 9, 2016 under Accident Law, California


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 6 years ago | Contributor

"Prosecute" means to press or bring criminal charges--it has nothing to do with bringing a civil lawsuit for money; by signing that part of the report, plaintiff did not give up her right to sue, so you will not prevail on that basis.
There *was* evidence--testimony; i.e. what she must have said in court, in the lawsuit, about the accident. Obviously, the trial judge believed her; a judge can--and often does--decide a case based on witness testimony, without other evidence (obviously, other evidence helps, of course).
Appellate courts are *very* relucatant to overturn or reverse the trial judge's factual determination as to what happened, because the trial judge saw & listened to the witnesses and had the chance to evaluate their deportment, manner, creditibility, etc.; the appellage court, however, only has the sterile written transcript and did not hear/see the testimony itself. For that reason, if your argument is that there was not enough evidence to find for the plaintiff, your appeal will almost certainly lose, since the appellate court will almost certainly defer to the trial court's determination in that regard.
Also, the fact that the police report did not "state that [you] certainly hit the plaintiff's car" is not evidence against her or evidence showing that you were not at fault; at best, all this means is that the police report does not necessarily help her. But again, the trial court felt that whatever it heard at trial was enough to find for plaintiff.

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