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Demand Letters and Small Claims

Demand Letters and Small Claims in Hawaii


Do you have someone who refuses to pay you for repairs you made to her car? A former landlord who won't return a security deposit? These are just two examples of claims or disputes that are resolved by the Hawaii small claims court. If the amount in dispute is $5,000 or less, consider a small claims court action.


Demand Letter


First, be sure to make your case in writing. Write a “Demand Letter” to the proposed defendant making your best case in writing. This letter will be Exhibit A to your small claims court filing.


Where to File


In Hawaii, there are five "judicial circuits," each covering at least one island. Each circuit has a district court. Each circuit court is divided into several "divisions" which cover one or more areas. Generally, you need to file your case in the district court division where:


  • The defendant lives, OR
  • Your claim arose, such as where the car accident occurred, if the defendant doesn't live in the judicial circuit, OR
  • Your claim arose, if there are multiple defendants who live in different divisions. If your claim arose outside of the judicial circuit, then you can file in any district court division where any one of the defendants can be found, OR
  • The defendant lives if your claim involves a dispute over a security deposit or in the division where the residential property is located if the defendant doesn't live in Hawaii

If you don't file the lawsuit in the right district court division, the defendant can ask the court to move the case to the proper court, they can ask that your case be dismissed which can slow things down for you.


Statement of Small Claim and Notice of Trial


The laws suit will begin when you file a "complaint”; in small claims court, this is a special form called the "Statement of Small Claim and Notice of Trial."


Print neatly and just give the facts:


  • Your name, address and a telephone number where you can be contacted during the day
  • The name and address of the defendant
  • The amount of money you want the defendant to pay
  • Reasons why the defendant owes you money


If you are suing a corporation or partnership, the Hawaii Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs, Business Registration Division can help you find its proper, legal name. If you know which district court division you need to file in, you can get the forms online.


Filing Fees


The fee is $35 but if you can't afford the filing fee you can complete an "Application for Relief from Costs" and the court may not make you pay the fee.


Generally, if you win your case, the court will order the defendant to pay the filing fee or "court costs." This will be in addition to any other money or damages the court awards you.


Service of Process


"Service of process" gives the other party notice that he or she is being sued. This is done by making sure that the defendant gets a copy of your Statement of Claim and Notice.


It's your responsibility to make sure a copy of your Statement of Claim and Notice is delivered to the defendant. The defendant may be served by:


Sending the Statement of Claim and Notice to the defendant by registered or certified mail with return receipt requested. At trial, you have to show certified mail receipt, which shows the date of delivery with the defendant's signature on it


Paying a civil process server to serve the papers on the defendant. Or, you can ask any person not a party to the lawsuit and over 18 years old to serve the papers.        


Defendant's Options


The defendant can:


  • Settle the claim. If you agree to a settlement before trial, you must file a Motion to Dismiss. You can get the form from the court clerk.
  • Answer the suit. Here the defendant admits or denies your claim either before trial or the trial date, and it can be in writing or oral.
  • Default. If the defendant doesn't show up for trial he "defaults” and you automatically win, so long as you can show the judge that your claim was valid.
  • Counterclaim. The defendant has to pay a fee for filing it and you have to be given a copy of it so that you can prepare your defense to the counterclaim. If you need more time, you can ask for a continuance. The court clerk can get you the necessary form, or you can get it online.
  • Ask for a continuance, which means postponing the trial to another day. There must be a good reason for it, such as illness.

Note that although the minimum claim for a plaintiff in small claims court is $5,000, the minimum counter claim is $20,000.


Need a Demand Letter?


Contact Douglas Slain at [email protected]Douglas Slain can be reached directly at 415-317-6130.

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