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Looking for answers to your small claims questions?

Our FAQ page covers a few things you need to know about civil claims in General Sessions courts in Middle Tennessee, including whether you need a lawyer, how to serve process, statute of limitations, and other civil litigation legal questions.

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Q: Do I need a lawyer for small claims court in Tennessee?

A: It is not mandatory to have a lawyer in small claims court, but it is advisable to have one to ensure you present your case well. Lawyers can also help with the complicated legal issues and procedures. It's important to note that if the other party has an attorney, it's usually a good idea to have one too.

Q: What is discovery in a civil case?

A: Discovery is a pre-trial procedure in which parties to a lawsuit gather evidence and information from each other. This can include interrogatories, requests for production of documents, and requests for admission. It is an essential part of the legal process, as it allows both sides to gather information and build their cases.

While many judges encourage, sometimes rather strongly, that the parties share documents with each other, discovery is not mandatory in general sessions. Meaning you may not be able to get the documents the other side has.

Q: Can I get a continuance in small claims court in Tennessee?

A: Yes, you can request a continuance in small claims court in Tennessee. You should ask for a continuance as soon as possible, and provide a good reason for it, especially hiring a lawyer. As a local rule, many jurisdictions, such as Davidson County, state the a continuance shall be granted the first time if requested by the defendant.

Q: What is service of process in a civil case?

A: Service of process refers to the act of giving notice of a lawsuit or legal action to the other party involved in the case. It is a critical part of the legal process, as it ensures that both parties have proper notice and an opportunity to respond. In Tennessee, there are specific rules governing service of process, and failure to follow them can result in the case being dismissed.

Q: What is the statute of limitations for a civil claim in Tennessee?

A: The statute of limitations for civil claims in Tennessee varies depending on the type of claim. For example, the statute of limitations for personal injury claims is one year, while it is six years for breach of contract claims. It's essential to be aware of the statute of limitations for your particular claim, as failing to file within the time frame can result in your case being dismissed and time barred forever.

Q: What is jurisdiction in Tennessee?

A: Jurisdictional issues refer to questions about which court has the authority to hear a particular case. In Tennessee, civil cases can be heard in either General Sessions Court or Circuit Court, depending on the amount of money in controversy and other factors. For example, an action on a lien may have to be brought in Chancery Court. General Sessions Courts in Tennessee have a limit of $25,000 in most situations.

Q: Can I appeal a small claims court decision in Tennessee?

A: Yes, you can appeal a small claims court decision in Tennessee. However, you must file your appeal within 10 days of the entry of judgment, and you must pay a fee. Appeals from small claims court are heard in Circuit Court, where the case is retried as if it were new.

Most importantly, there are other steps you must stake to ensure your appeal is heard, such as filing a notice to set in certain counties. Civil litigation can be difficult, appealing a judgment without a lawyer is much worse. It's best to get it done right in General Sessions first as Circuit court can be much more expensive.

Q: Can I recover my attorney's fees in a civil case in Tennessee?

A: In Tennessee, the general rule is that each side must pay their own attorney's fees in a civil case, regardless of the outcome. However, there are some exceptions to this rule. For example, if your contract has an attorney's fees provision, you may be able to recover your attorney's fees if you prevail in the case or if you are a landlord.