Thursday, June 02, 2016

WV Magistrate Court maximum jurisdiction amount doubles to $10,000

For decades the maximum amount you could sue for in WV Magistrate Court was $5,000. Anything above that you had to file in Circuit Court. This is a significant limitation because Magistrate Court is designed to be consumer-friendly even for those litigants who are not represented by lawyers. Circuit Court, on the other hand, is not designed for folks to navigate through without legal representation. Not to say you can't do it, but for example there are very few forms for use by litigants in that court, whereas there are several forms for Magistrate Court including a general Complaint form that can be used to get you in the door for almost anything the Magistrate Court can hear.

The state legislature this year enacted a bill to double the maximum jurisdiction of our Magistrate Courts to $10,000 beginning in June of 2016. [See SB 274 which as passed March 7, 2016 and becomes effective 90 days from passage.]

This offers West Virginians the option of filing lawsuits in the Magistrate Court that previously they may not have been practically able to file at all. For example, if you pay a contractor $8,000 for a new roof, and the job is done poorly and needs to be repaired, it may not have been feasible for you to pay a lawyer $2,500 to represent you especially since you aren't guaranteed to win, and you may not have been able to figure out how to successfully file and pursue the case on your own in Circuit Court. Now you have the option of filing that case in Magistrate Court by yourself using a fill-in-the-blank form Complaint, or hiring an attorney to file it and represent you in Magistrate Court perhaps for a lower fee than for Circuit Court representation, or hiring an attorney to file it and represent you in Circuit Court. You can still legally represent yourself in Circuit Court, but without some legal background and experience you're likely to have a difficult time succeeding on that path. You wouldn't do surgery on yourself, would you? Sometimes hiring a professional is what it takes to get what you need.

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