The New Year Rings in Changes to Florida Courts

The beginning of a new year is the perfect opportunity to reinvent one’s self. You might take the initiative to become healthier with a more active lifestyle, or you may challenge yourself intellectually with a new class or reading goal. Whatever your resolution may be this year, we can all benefit as citizens by educating ourselves on changes now in effect for Florida’s trial courts. As of January 1, 2020, changes have been made to both County Court and Small Claims Court. It never hurts to stay up-to-date on annual changes because it could save you a great deal of hassle later in the year. Take a second to read below and review the changes made in our great state.

What are the Differences Between County Court and Small Claims Court?

One of the main differences between the two courts is the amount of claim at hand. Claims of $8,000 or less are handled in small claims court. Anything above that amount, but less than $30,000, should be filed and handled within county court. Please note that these amounts do not take into account interest and attorney fees, if applicable. Another difference is that the scheduling of small claims court tends to be more informal and less regulated than county court.

What Changes Have Been Made to Florida’s County Court?

Effective with the new year, county court jurisdictional thresholds have increased to $30,000. This amount formerly topped out at $15,000, so the amount in dispute for civil cases heard in county courts have now doubled. Dealings with county courts or small claims courts have a reputation for being quicker and less expensive. The ability to now specify a larger amount in dispute in a more time-efficient and cost-efficient manner is an obvious benefit for the average citizen. Be mindful that this is slated to change again in 2023 when the amount is expected to increase to $50,000.

Note that filers are also now required to submit an updated civil cover sheet for any dollar amount in dispute in cases exceeding $8,000 in value. You can access a copy of that cover sheet here. Additionally, any prevailing parties are now required to submit a final disposition form.

What Changes Have Been Made to Florida’s Small Claims Court?

Small claims court is for cases that involve damages of a smaller amount. Cases that are often seen in small claims court include personal injury, breach of contract, and the repayment of loans.

The second major change this year is that small claims limits will now include cases up to $8,000. The former amount of $5,000 has been increased by 60%. Small claims court can be informal and often does not require a lawyer.

Have Filing Fees Changed?

No, fees have not changed this year. For the first $500, you would be responsible for 3%, and each additional $100 would tack on 1.5%. Fees are due when you start the claim, and you can pay them in cash, check, or money order.

How Do I File a Complaint?

When you file a claim, indicate the amount of damage you are claiming. It is okay if you do not know the exact amount. In the least, provide an estimate or range in $2,500 increments. This kind of information is crucial in helping the clerk decide if it should be sent to small claims or the county clerk. You can file in person at your nearest county court location, by mail, or online. Make sure to include a copy of any important document that will support your case (receipts, letters, contracts, emails, etc.). It may even be helpful to make multiple copies of these documents so that you can submit copies when you file and also have copies for each defendant. Save the original copies for the hearing. Be diligent and include your name, phone number, and address on all documents you file with the court so that the documents can be returned to their correct owner. Small claims has the option to file by mail, but if you choose this option, be mindful to include a self-addressed and stamped envelope so any documents submitted may be mailed back directly to you.

Do I Have to File a Complaint By Myself? 

No, you can absolutely get help along the way. Even though certain situations may not require a lawyer to be present, you can still receive legal counsel as you begin, carry out, and complete the process. Contacting a trusted lawyer for guidance is never a bad idea and, with the changes brought in with the New Year, it could be your smartest move. If you or a loved one are considering filing a claim, contact us today for a free consultation to see how we can help you navigate Florida’s updated court system.