What are Wisconsin Small Claims Cases and Class Action Lawsuits?
Small claims cases and class action lawsuits are civil cases in Wisconsin. Both types of cases involve claims; while small claims typically involve one claimant or defendant, class action lawsuits involve a class of people with the same claim represented by one or more persons. Small claims and class action lawsuits typically involve claims of money, eviction claims, personal injury claims, forfeitures, and real property claims. While small claims may be between individuals, class action lawsuits are usually between individuals and organizations. In Wisconsin, the small claims court is a special civil court that handles claims that involve up to $10,000. Mentally capable persons 18 years and older or emancipated may file small claims in a Wisconsin court.
What is a Class Action Lawsuit in Wisconsin?
A class action lawsuit is a legal claim brought by more than one petitioner against the same defendant. The group of petitioners bringing the legal claim is called a class, and one or more class members may represent the class in the lawsuit. Typically, the court allows a class action lawsuit when it is impractical for all the claimants to file individual law claims. Additionally, all class members may use the same witnesses, documents, and experts in the lawsuit, thus saving class members the cost of individual claims (Wis. Stat. section 803.08)..
How do I File a Claim in a Wisconsin Small Claims Court?
Any person who is 18 or older and mentally competent may initiate a small claims case in Wisconsin. Interested persons may obtain required forms in person from the Court Clerk or the Wisconsin courts website. The plaintiff may begin by filing a summons and a complaint in the county where:
- The plaintiff’s claim arose.
- The defendant resides or conducts business.
- If a property is involved, the county where the property is.
The plaintiff or petitioner must remember to list the defendant’s correct name and address and indicate the type of lawsuit on the form. Small claims procedures may differ from one county to another; case parties must follow each county’s specific rules; otherwise, the court may dismiss the case or enter a default judgment. The fee for filing small claims in Milwaukee County is $98 and $94.50 in other parts of Wisconsin. Additionally, the plaintiff must pay fees associated with serving the defendant a summons.
Do I Need a Small Claims Lawyer?
Case parties in Wisconsin may hire small claims lawyers to represent the parties in a case. Alternatively, case parties may choose to be Pro Se or self-represented litigants. Small claims lawyers may interpret court rules and state statutes better than case parties, thus creating a better chance of a favorable judgment. Additionally, small claims lawyers can offer Pro Se litigants advice on the validity of the claim, the type of documents and evidence to prepare for court, and case settlement.
How do Class Action Lawsuits Work in Wisconsin?
According to state laws, the prerequisites for a class action lawsuit in Wisconsin include:
- The class must have a common fact or question of law.
- The class representatives must fairly represent and adequately protect the class’s interest. There should be no conflicts of interest.
- The representatives’ defense or claim must be the same as those of the class.
- The class consists of so many people that individual lawsuits are impractical.
Additionally, a case may only be a class action lawsuit in Wisconsin if the court finds that the suit satisfies any of the conditions highlighted in Wis. Stat. section 803.08:
- Individual claims or lawsuits may put the defendant in a conflicted position where the defendant cannot fulfill the requirements of the separate cases.
- Individual claims would make it impossible for all the class members to protect individual interests.
- The defendant refuses to act on the grounds that apply to the class.
- The court finds that a class action is the most effective way to settle the claim, as the common facts of the suit supersede the members’ individual questions.
The representative in a class action lawsuit must file a motion for the class certification. The representative must prove that the class action meets all the court’s requirements for certification.
When the court certifies the class, the representatives must notify all the class members. The notification may be by mail, radio advertisement, newspaper, website, or email. The law mandates the representative to use the most practical notice method possible and to use clear, easily understood language in the notice. The notice must contain the class definition, the nature of the case, and the case claims. The notice must inform the class members that the members may opt out of the class and that the court’s decision is binding on all the members.
The court’s certification order must also appoint the class counsel to represent the class. The court also notifies class members before approving any compromise, dismissal, or claim settlement so that any member may opt out of the class or object to the settlement or dismissal. The discovery and trial process in class action lawsuits typically take up to one or two years longer than individual lawsuits.
Is a Class Action Better Than a Single Party Suit?
A class action combines many plaintiffs’ claims into one and ensures that the plaintiffs recover similarly. In a class action, all class members may use the same witnesses and documentation, thereby decreasing the lawsuit cost; however, in cases where it may best serve a plaintiff’s interest to pursue a single party suit. Such cases include cases where the recovery from a class action would be significantly less than one from a single party suit. Ultimately, the appropriate suit type depends on each case’s particulars.
Records that are considered public may be accessible from some third-party websites. These websites often make searching more straightforward, as they are not limited by geographic location, and search engines on these sites may help when starting a search for a specific or multiple records. To begin using such a search engine on a third-party or government website, interested parties usually must provide:
- The name of the person involved in the record, unless said person is a juvenile
- The location or assumed location of the document or person involved
Third-party sites are independent of government sources and are not sponsored by these government agencies. Because of this, record availability on third-party websites may vary.
What Cases are Heard by Small Claims Courts in Wisconsin?
The Wisconsin small claims court, which is the Circuit court, has jurisdiction over cases such as:
- Money claims where the amount involved does not exceed $10,000
- Debt judgment enforcement, when the amount involved does not exceed $10.000
- Personal injury or tort claims where the claim amount does not exceed $5000
- Eviction claims
- Consumer credit transactions that do not exceed $25,000
- Property repossession, if the property value does not exceed $10.000
- Tax recovery from a liable person when the amount involved does not exceed $10.000
- Return of earnest money