The “People’s Court”– NY Small Claims Court

Do you have a dispute with a local merchant, a neighbor, someone who did you wrong? If so, you might be able to easily handle the dispute on your own without having to hire a lawyer! Below are the nuts and bolts for handling a Small Claims Court matter in New York. Since my office is in Elmira, I will use the Small Claims Court information in Elmira as my example but I will also provide information for other courts throughout the State of New York.

First, a few of the basics. Small Claims Court in the City of Elmira is for claims up to $5,000. You can bring a claim against a person who lives in the City of Elmira or is doing business in the City of Elmira. Here is a link to the Small Claims Court website: You can access the Court Forms here.

Second, a few tips for handling your own case.

In the City of Elmira, you can go to the second floor of City Hall and go to the window for the Court Clerk. Just tell the Clerk the details of your claim (ie the name and address of the person you wish to sue, the relevant dates, the amount of your claim, etc.) and the Clerk will assist you in filing your Claim. They will then give you a court date for your case.

On the date of your hearing it is important that you bring with you any witnesses and/or documents that support your claim– bring photos, invoices, diagrams,etc.– basically anything that will help you explain to the Judge what happened and why you deserve to be compensated.

Keep in mind that the Judge hears lots of cases on each court day so try to be very organized so that you can quickly and clearly explain your position. Be polite even if your opponent is not– remember, the Judge will be deciding who wins and who loses and in my experience, nice folks usually win and the jerks lose….

Good luck and let me know if you have any questions.

Thanks for reading, Jim Reed

PS– For information on other New York courts a great starting point is the official N.Y. Courts website at:

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About Jim Reed

I am a NY and PA attorney representing people who have been injured by the carelessness of others. For more than 30 years years, I have practiced in the state and federal courts of both New York and Pennsylvania in the areas of Personal Injury, Medical Malpractice, and Legal Malpractice. I am proud to have been selected as a "Best Lawyer in America" (Best Lawyer's "Lawyer of the Year" in 2015), a NY SuperLawyer and as a member of the prestigious Multi-Million Dollar Advocates Forum. Forum membership is limited to trial lawyers who have demonstrated exceptional skill, experience and excellence in advocacy by achieving a trial verdict, award or settlement of Two Million Dollars or more. I have been fortunate to recover many multi-million dollar recoveries for my clients. I am also proud of the fact that WETM-TV selected me as their local legal expert. I am featured on the Noon News on Wednesdays when I respond to listeners' legal questions. If you have a legal question, feel free to E-mail it to me at [email protected] and I will be happy to address your question either via E-mail or on WETM. When I am not working, I can often be found on my bicycle as I am an avid bicycle racer having competed in races all over the country including a 508 mile team race through Death Valley (The Furnace Creek 508) and a 540 mile race through the Cascade Mountains of Oregon (The Race Across Oregon). I have lectured frequently on many law-related topics and I have been published in the New York State Bar Journal, which is the largest and most prestigious legal publication in New York State. I am happy to speak to local civic groups so please feel free to E-mail me at [email protected] or call me at 1-800-Zifflaw (943-3529) .

7 thoughts on “The “People’s Court”– NY Small Claims Court

  1. Pingback: Settling a NY Auto Property Damage Claim |

  2. a dispute with a sidewalk contractor. This has been ongoing since July 2012. All work documented by photos. Small claims court or a lost cause? Most of sidewalk will have to be replaced. I paid $1,950.00 to contractor.

  3. With Small Claims Court you really don’t have anything to lose but your own time and the nominal court costs so Small Claims Court might be perfect for this kind of dispute. Just make sure to take all documents/photos/witnesses necessary to prove your claim.

    Good Luck!

    Thanks, Jim
    James B. Reed
    NY & PA Injury & Malpractice Lawyer
    Ziff Law Firm, LLP
    Mailto: [email protected]
    Office: (607)733-8866
    Toll-Free: 800-ZIFFLAW (943-3529)
    Blogs: and

  4. Hello,
    I recently sold my car privately to an Individual who paid 1/3 in cash and the other 2/3 by personal check. She put a stop or “hold” on the check shortly after I deposited it and all the money was withdrew from my account. I have a signed receipt by the individual stating that she paid x amount dollars by way of check and cash, and she has one as well. I have a signed authentic copy of the check from the bank of which it was deposited. What should I do to settle this and guarantee my money back? Thank you.

  5. Unfortunately, absent cash in hand, there is no effective way to “guarantee” payment whenever you accept a personal check. Your remedy if someone cuts you a bad check is to try to get the police to prosecute this as a crime for knowingly issue a bad check. However, usually the issuer of the check tells the police that the car was not as represented and that therefore they had a valid basis to stop payment on the check. The police generally don’t want to get involved in this game of “he said, she said” so they just tell you it is a civil matter.

    That means you head to Small Claims Court as discussed in this blog.

    Sorry that I don’t have anything better than this I can recommend but I think you know you are between a rock and a hard place on this one. For future reference, when selling something, insist on cash, a certified check or some other valuable collateral that will guarantee future payment.

    Good luck,

    Jim Reed
    NY and PA Injury & Malpractice Lawyer

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