U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

NCJRS Virtual Library

The Virtual Library houses over 235,000 criminal justice resources, including all known OJP works.
Click here to search the NCJRS Virtual Library

Small Claims and Traffic Courts: Case Management Procedures, Case Characteristics, and Outcomes in 12 Urban Jurisdictions

NCJ Number
J A Goerdt
Date Published
207 pages
Data from 12 small claims courts in large urban jurisdictions formed the basis of an analysis of their procedures, case load size, case characteristics, case outcomes, and the pace of litigation in traffic cases, with emphasis on the effect of attorney representation on the outcomes of small claims trials and the influence of allowing collection agencies to file claims.
Five of the courts allowed attorneys at trial and collection agencies to file claims as assigned, while seven did not. Eight of the courts had some kind of mediation programs. The analysis focused on about 450 small claims and 450 traffic cases file in 1990 in each court. Results revealed that mediation programs, many of which use volunteer mediators, successfully settled half to about 95 percent of mediated cases and that litigants who went to mediation were more likely to be satisfied with the outcome than were litigants who went to trial. None of the courts were close to meeting the American Bar Association standard that all small claims cases be disposed within 30 days after finding and that misdemeanor traffic cases be disposed within 90 days. Allowing collection agencies to take part in small claims filing cases did not reduce the filing rate per 1,000 population by individual plaintiffs. Representation by attorney was less important than the type of defendant (business of individual) and type of case (debt collection versus other case type) in predicting the outcome of a small claims trial. Businesses filed most of the claims, but individuals were much more likely to be the plaintiffs in small claims trials. Defendants had a very good chance to win a verdict or to pay substantially less than the amount claimed by plaintiffs. Litigants' satisfaction was significantly influenced by case-processing time, the length of waiting time on trial delay, and the perceived helpfulness of the clerk's office staff. Tables, chapter notes, and appended methodological information and tables