Small Claims, Big Headache

Small Claims, Big Headache

Small Claims Big Headache

In a recent victory, Smith Freed Eberhard partner Tasha Lyn Cosimo achieved an expeditious dismissal of a small claims case. Not only did Tasha get the case dismissed, but she recovered a money judgment against the plaintiffs, reimbursing her client for the costs of litigation.

The Background Story

In this case, the plaintiffs had been involved in a motor vehicle accident, sued an insured driver in small claims court, and recovered a modest amount in non-economic damages. After the insured driver’s carrier paid the small claims judgment, the same emboldened plaintiffs turned around and sued the insurer for punitive damages and bad faith, again in small claims court. The plaintiffs were essentially seeking compensation for having to go through the claims process.

In Oregon, unlike at the trial court level, attorneys generally cannot represent clients in small claims court. Additionally, defendants have no mechanism by which they can quickly dismiss frivolous claims without proceeding to at least one hearing. This small claims case was turning into a big headache for the insurer. Read on to find out how Tasha turned this situation into a success story.

The Strategy

Tasha knew that attorneys typically cannot represent clients in small claims court. Undeterred, Tasha submitted a motion to appear through counsel, describing the hardship that her out-of-state insurer would have to endure by sending a representative to Oregon. In a rare move, the small claims judge was persuaded by Tasha’s motion, and granted her motion to appear on behalf of the insurer for all proceedings in the case.

Tasha’s next step was to find a way to immediately engage in motions practice, seeking dismissal of the frivolous claims. After demanding a jury trial in trial court, and being advised that the case would need to run its course in small claims court before landing in trial court, Tasha utilized creative litigation methods to persuade the small claims court to allow her to submit a motion to dismiss for failure to state a legally cognizable claim, without having to wait for the transfer to the case to trial court. Tasha drafted and submitted the motion to dismiss, ultimately convincing the court that the plaintiffs did not have any legal grounds upon which to rest their claims against the insurer. Additionally, Tasha sought her client’s costs for having to defend the case, which were awarded by the court. Those costs have since been collected and returned to the insurer.

The Outcome

Insurers are no strangers to frivolous lawsuits. Unfortunately, insurers often wind up paying “nuisance money” or high defense costs to deal with these cases. Instead, Tasha was able to resolve the case while keeping costs low, handling the matter expeditiously, and even compensating her client for the costs of litigation. This success story has earned Tasha another appreciative client.