Yes. You can try to settle the case out of court, you can participate in mediation, you can file a complaint with a government agency, or you can retain an attorney to represent you in county court.
It is a good idea to attempt to settle a dispute before going to court or even before you file your claim form. An early settlement saves time and filing fees and you are more likely to get your money because the defendant has not spent time and money preparing for court.
An attempt to settle the case gives the judge the impression that you are a fair and reasonable person. You will more likely convince the judge that your previous conduct has been fair and reasonable if you have made an honest effort to settle your dispute before filing the case. Judges, with their crowded court dockets do not like to see court time wasted on matters that could have been settled privately.
The first step in settling a dispute is to telephone the other party. Do not make the call when you are angry. Be brief and businesslike and stick to the facts. Tell the other party your position and exactly what you want. You must decide what kind of settlement you will accept before you make the telephone call. Don´t accept vague promises from the other party. Clarify what specific action will be taken or the amount of money that will be paid and determine how and when this is to be accomplished.
If your settlement attempts do not get the desired results, the second step is to write a demand letter. Student Legal Services often helps students write demand letters or writes the letter on behalf of the student, using law office stationery. As with the phone call, your letter should stick to the facts and clearly state what you want. It is usually a good idea to ask for cooperation by a certain date. Be sure your letter is dated and photocopied before you mail it. You may need a copy of the letter to present to the judge in Small Claims Court if your attempt to settle is unsuccessful. Do not admit responsibility or guilt or state anything that might hurt your case if you end up in court.
In many situations, it is best to get a settlement agreement in writing, signed by the parties. This is especially true when you are agreeing to let the other party pay you money in installments. It is a good idea to have an attorney help you draft a settlement agreement. If you have already filed your Small Claims claim form before you reach a settlement, you can file a dismissal of your claim form and attach a copy of your settlement agreement to the dismissal.
If settling the dispute by yourself is not possible, consider mediation. Mediation is a process which brings two or more parties together to resolve their dispute through negotiation. A trained mediator facilitates the process of negotiation by sitting down with the parties and helping them develop possible solutions to the problem. The mediator does not decide the issues for the parties but encourages them to reach a mutually agreeable solution. Sometimes an agreement is put in writing and parties sign it. The final written agreement may be enforced as a legal contract.
When two UNL students have a dispute and want to try mediation, Student Legal Services refers them to The Mediation Center in Lincoln where they are charged a small fee based on income. Participation in mediation is always voluntary and it often results in a solution that is more satisfactory than a court judgment. There are mediation centers throughout Nebraska that can be located by contacting The Mediation Center at (402) 441-5740 or visiting the web site at http://www.themediationcenter.org/.
Anyone who files a lawsuit in the Lancaster County Court will be given an opportunity to participate in mediation on the day of court. Instead of the judge deciding the case, the people in dispute sit down with two mediators in a private room to work towards an agreeable solution. If they are unable to reach an agreement, they can still have the judge hear the case and decide.
- Getting a Government Agency to Help.
There are many government agencies available to help you settle many kinds of disputes. Some agencies provide investigation and arbitration boards. Some are very effective and some are not. Finding the right government agency usually involves a few telephone calls. Don´t be discouraged if your first phone call doesn´t locate the right agency. Ask if they can refer you to someone who can assist you. Student Legal Services has listings of government agencies and can try to help you find the right one. Once you find an agency to help you handle your problem, get the information necessary to pursue your claim including the estimated length of time it will take to follow through on your case. Write down the name and title of the person you talk to in case you need to call him or her later. Find out exactly what the agency can and cannot do for you.
- Suing in County Court Rather than Small Claims Court.
There are several types of cases that should be filed in County Court rather than Small Claims Court. If you are seeking an award of money in excess of $3,500 you should not file in Small Claims Court since the judge cannot award you more than that amount.
If you want to be represented by an attorney you cannot sue in Small Claims Court. If your case turns on a complex legal technicality you may want to hire an attorney to argue your case. If you are not fluent in the English language or you have trouble speaking in public, you may want to have an attorney represent you in County Court. Self-representation is allowed in County Court but the legal rules of evidence are in effect, unlike Small Claims Court. Your opponent is free to be represented by an attorney in County Court.
Once a plaintiff has filed a case in Small Claims Court, it is possible for the defendant to file a motion to remove the case to County Court. Such a motion is usually written and filed by the defendant´s attorney and it must be filed at least 48 hours prior to your Small Claims Court trial date. If the motion is granted, the case will be transferred to County Court.