What kinds of legal problems can I handle myself?
Louisiana courts recognize that sometimes we have legal problems that are small enough that we can handle them ourselves. These are usually heard in Small Claims Courts in City Courts, Justice of the Peace Courts, or sometimes even in District Courts. These cases involve money disputes over amounts under $5,000, or requests that the court order someone to do, or stop doing, something. They can’t be used to resolve issues like bankruptcy, divorce, or guardianship.
Before filing a suit, it is always a good idea to try to resolve the problem without a lawsuit. If talking to the other person doesn’t work, try sending a polite letter explaining what you are unhappy about and what you’d like the other person to do about it. If that doesn’t work, then you may have no choice but to forget about it or file a suit. Louisiana has limits on how long you can wait before filing a suit. To collect damages for an injury, it is one year. For contracts it is up to ten years. The sooner you file the suit, the better, before memories fade and evidence is lost.
The clerk of the court will usually have a fill-in-the-blank form you can complete to explain who you are suing and why or, if you’re the one being sued, a form to explain whether you owe the money, some of the money, or none of it. There will be a fee to file your suit, but if you can’t afford it, you have the right to ask the judge to let you file without paying in advance. This is called filing “in forma pauperis”. Even if the judge agrees, you might have to pay some or all of the court costs when your case is over.
To prepare for your case, you should gather evidence to support your side of the dispute. This could be your testimony or that of an eyewitness. Photographs, contracts, recordings, letters and even email may be good proof that you are entitled to win. Experts like mechanics, electricians and plumbers are also good witnesses. Try to avoid getting drawn into arguments about things that are not key to winning your case.
Legal Aid has lawyers who may be able to help you with a letter to the other person which might avoid having to file suit. They can also provide you with advice on handling your suit and may even represent you in more complicated cases. Legal Aid has experienced lawyers who handle these kinds of questions. Call Cameron Council on Aging at (318) 932-5721 or Legal Aid of North Louisiana, 134 St. Denis Street, at (318) 352-7220 or (800) 960-9109 to find out if you qualify for free legal help. If you would like to learn more about Louisiana law, you can find information at LA-Law.org or LouisianaLawHelp.org la.freelegalanswers.org.
Information provided by the Red River Council on Aging.
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