Hawaii Small Claims Court Basics – How It Works and Make It Work for You

Having mediated hundreds of cases in Hawaii Small Claims court, I have seen many people who come to court unprepared, not knowing what to expect. Therefore, here are a few things to keep in mind to make the best of Hawaii Small Claims Court and make it work for you.

Which kind of cases can be settled in Hawaii small claims court

All kinds — property damage, breach of contract, security deposit, personal loan, car repair, defective product, personal injury and so on – as long as the monetary value of your case does not exceed $5,000. Be aware that in Hawaii Small Claims Court there is usually no allowance for lost wages, pain and suffering, and travel expenses (unless you had to fly from a neighbor island).

Pros of going through Hawaii small claims court

Settling a case in Hawaii small claims court is quick and inexpensive because you don’t have to hire an attorney. In addition, you have two options to settle your dispute with the other party: You can work out a mutually acceptable agreement with the assistance of a neutral mediator of the Mediation Center of the Pacific, or you can have your day in court and let the judge decide

Cons of Hawaii small claims court

First, in Hawaii small claims court there is no right to appeal. If the judge decides how your dispute should be settled, you must accept that decision — whether you like it or not. Second, keep in mind that winning in court and getting your money are two different things. If you win, the judge is not going to cut you a check. The burden to collect is still yours.

How Hawaii small claims court works

When you file a claim in Hawaii small claims court, the clerk will set a date for your trial. From that point on, you are the plaintiff, and the person you are suing is the defendant. Next, you have to serve the court papers on the defendant — in person, by mail, through the sheriff or a civil process server. One way or another, you have to notify the defendant both about your claim and the day of the trial.

If you have served the defendant properly and he or she shows up in court on the day of the trial, the Judge will ask him/her a simple question: “Do you admit or deny that you owe X dollars to the plaintiff?” If the defendant answers, “I admit,” there is automatically a judgment against him or her for the amount claimed, plus court and service costs. If the defendant says, “I deny — I do not owe the plaintiff anything” or “I owe the plaintiff something, but not the entire amount of the claim,” the judge will send both of you to mediation.

What recourse you have if the defendant refuses to pay

If the defendant is ordered to pay but does not, the plaintiff can take several steps. Typically, he or she could garnish the defendant’s wages or try to find some other assets, like bank accounts. In Hawaii, as in other states, there are specific laws stating what the plaintiff can and cannot do to collect money from the defendant.

What mediation in Hawaii small claims court entails

The purpose of mediation is to give you and the defendant the opportunity, (a) to present your perspective, (b) to listen to the other party’s perspective, and (c) to identify all issues that need to be resolved. Once you have that information, you can decide whether it is in your best interest to work out an agreement that both of you think is fair, or let the judge decide.

The beauty of mediation is that you and the defendant have total control over your settlement. Not only can you decide how much money should change hands and within how many days, weeks or months; you can also resolve any misunderstanding or miscommunication issues — for example, with a verbal or written apology. If you are able to reach a mediated agreement, the mediator will write down its terms, and the judge will check with you that everything you have agreed on is crystal clear.

The benefits of mediation

You (the plaintiff) are more likely to receive all agreed-upon payments. The defendant avoids having a judgment entered against him or her, which could affect his/her credit rating for years to come. And both of you have an opportunity to preserve your relationship. Also, mediation takes place right there in small claims court on the same day of the trial.

Who pays for mediation in Hawaii small claims court

The Hawaii Judiciary has a contract with different mediation centers on each island — for Oahu it is the Mediation Center of the Pacific — to provide mediation services in small claims court. Thus, the cost of mediation is not paid by either party (plaintiff or defendant). It is paid by the Hawaii Judiciary (i.e., by Hawaii taxpayers).

What happens if you are unable to work out an agreement in mediation

The judge will decide how your dispute should be settled. In that case, nothing you said or offered during mediation can be used against you in court, because mediation is confidential.

What to expect if you have to go to trial

If you are the plaintiff, you have the burden of proof that, A, you suffered a monetary damage and, B, the defendant is liable for it. The way you do that is through your testimony, your evidence (documents, receipts, invoices, pictures) and your witnesses.

To be safe, make sure to print out any pictures, emails or documents you have on your computer or cellular phone. As for your witnesses, they must be present in court so the judge can determine their qualifications and credibility.

And finally, be aware of what the judge will do if your dispute — like many disputes — is not black and white, but there is a gray area because neither you nor the defendant can prove conclusively who said or did what. In this case the judge will apply a little-known legal concept called “preponderance of evidence.” It works like this: If the judge believes you 51 percent and the defendant 49 percent, you win. But if the judge believes the defendant 51 percent and you 49 percent, you lose. Perhaps this is another reason small claims court judges prefer that you and the defendant reach your own settlement agreement in mediation.

Understanding How Credit Repair Really Works is Crucial to Your Financial Battle

What is Credit?

Credit means that you are using someone else’s money to pay for things. It also means that you are making a promise to repay the money to the person or company that loaned you the money.

Whenever a person applies for a loan, mortgage, a credit card or for any other purpose for which he needs to borrow funds from a lending agency, the agency will check the financial credit-worthiness of the person and based upon its assessment of the financial risk involved in the deal, the agency will decide upon the terms and conditions of granting credit. A positive assessment necessitates a sound financial background and a credit history with no bad remarks.

What is Credit Repair?

‘Credit repair’ is a process in which consumers with unfavorable credit histories attempt to re-establish their credit-worthiness. The process usually involves procuring a credit report from the rating agencies and then taking appropriate steps to address any apparent issues such as errors, omissions, misinformation, misreporting or misinterpretation. A consumer can then formally dispute those errors or issues which unjustly distort their financial healthiness and credit-worthiness. Various laws and regulations designed to ensure legal and fair undertaking of the credit repair process can then be utilized to formally and legally start the credit repair process.

Consumers are entitled to a copy of their credit report legally, if they have been denied a credit card or loan and if the information provided on the report is inaccurate, an investigation relating to true facts is necessary for a credit repair.

Why Repair Credit?

A consumer’s credit record significantly influences his future purchasing power and his eligibility of availing any credit facilities in the future. A good rating, or score, can insure a low interest rate and loans for longer term for various purposes like credit card balances, car or home loans. A poor rating makes a consumer vulnerable to finance companies charging exorbitant interest rates and imposing various unnecessary repayment and loan terms. Considering the stakes and the consequences involved, it is absolutely imperative for consumers to understand the importance of repairing their bad or low credit ratings.

The Safe and Legitimate Way to Repair Credit

Credit repair can only be achieved through financial discipline and hard work. Any easy way out of a poor credit history is undoubtedly tempting, but it may lead to further financial difficulties in the future.

If a poor credit history is due to circumstances beyond a consumer’s control, and they are able to somewhat make amends to their credit records after that time, then a creditor can be requested to upgrade credit rating because of a sense of customer loyalty.

Most creditors don’t trust the customers defaulting on their debts, so it may be very difficult to obtain new credit. But once a person is able to demonstrate continuing income stability and prompt payment patterns, his situation can improve in a period of two to three years. This way, even in the case of bankruptcy, a consumer is likely to be offered charge and credit cards within a year or two if maintaining a steady income.

What is most important is evaluating the financial situation. If one finds that they are unable to make at least the minimum payment on outstanding accounts, a contact should be made with the creditors. Many creditors will appreciate the willingness to pay and are most likely to help set up plans for repayment. Avoid making promises which cannot be kept as a small payment is preferable to a large payment that never arrives. Sometimes a small contact can be enough to reduce payments and forestall more severe measures.

The next step is consulting a credit counseling agency. These organizations are staffed with trained individuals experienced in the credit field. A distinction needs to be made between these and the commercial “credit repair” companies who claim that, for a fee, they will undertake credit repair.

No one can legally remove accurate and timely negative information from a credit report. But the law does allow one to request a reinvestigation of information in their file that may be inaccurate or incomplete. There is no charge for this. Everything a credit repair clinic will do can be done by a consumer themselves at little or no cost.

The most important factor in credit repair is recognizing the legitimate and viable options available, recognizing what the scams are, and differentiating between the two. A poor credit history can make it difficult to obtain additional lines of credit making consumers fall prey to many unethical programs that target consumers with less- than-perfect credit. There are no quick fixes in credit repair. Common sense tells you that a third party doesn’t know your credit history better than you. Through contacting credit bureaus, making your own corrections, consolidating your debts and budgeting, you can improve your own score. You don’t need to pay someone to fix it for you. It’s better to apply that money towards discharging your debt.

Summary

Understanding the basics of credit repair and knowing what exactly is needed in order to rebuild your credit history goes a long way to getting it resolved. However, you must be disciplined, find the right credit repair solution for you and not be tempted to fall back into debt.