Dear Attorney Baron
I lent $200 to my cousin to help him pay his rent. Despite several emails and facebook "pokes", he still hasn't paid me back. What drives me crazy is that he just bought a new Mustang Convertible for his girlfriend. My husband says it's too late to sue. Is that true?
My "Cousin Vinny" is a Deadbeat
In my opinion, a lawsuit should always be your last resort. I know what you're thinking. What kind of lawyer are you? Don't you guys love suing people? In reality, lawsuits can eat up your time and money. Considering you are dealing with a family member, I am sure it is even more difficult. If you are considering suing your cousin, try to think of the outcome. Will this cause a rift in my family? Will this make family gatherings awkward? Now I am not suggesting you shouldn't try to get your money back. Far from it. But consider how much it will cost you to go to court. Will you hire a lawyer? Do you need to take time off from work? In a study done by the National Center for State Courts, it was determined that only 32% of cases resulted in a plaintiff getting a 100% of their claim. With that in mind, it is probably a good idea to first try to talk to your cousin. By talking, I mean face to face. In an age of twitter, facebook, and texting, people tend to forget what it's like to talk to a person face to face. You may consider offering a compromise. Are you willing to accept a payment plan or a lower amount?
Keep in mind that if your compromised offer is turned down by your deadbeat cousin, you can still sue him for the full amount in court. Unfortunately, just the filing fee in superior court is $300. Because you are suing for less than five thousand dollars, small claims court may be your best bet. The filing entry fee is $75 and the process is easy enough to do on your own. If you win your case, the entry fee and your costs of service will be added to the judgment against the defendant. If you do decide to sue, you have to remember that their are deadlines you need to meet. If you wait too long, you can lose your ability to sue. Whether you can still sue your cousin depends on various factors. Statute of limitations deadlines are different for various situations For example, was your agreement with your cousin oral or written? Chapter 926 of the Connecticut General Statutes deals with deadlines. You can usually find information on small claims at your local courthouse. In New Britain, they have a very helpful and professional staff manning the court service center. The service center has self help information available free of charge to the public. If you find the process a bit too perplex, you may also consider hiring an attorney. But don't rely on bus ads and billboards. Ask your friends for referrals or check with your local bar association for suggestions.
If your cousin Vinny is constantly asking you for money and favors, you might take a cue from a different movie. If you saw " A Bronx Tale", you may remember the scene where Sonny gives advice to his prodigy who has been chasing a guy for an old debt. To paraphrase the movie "Look at it this way, it cost you two hundred dollars to get rid of him, Right? He's never gonna ask you for money again. He's out of your life for $200. You got off cheap. Fuggehdaboutit!."
Attorney Adrian Baron is a partner in the Connecticut law firm of Podorowsky Thompson & Baron. A nationally recognized award winning legal writer, Attorney Baron was recently named to the 2012 Superlawyer New England Rising Star list, a distinction given to less than 3% of attorneys in the state. His unique background includes work as an aide to Robert F. Kennedy Jr and as chair of the Ethics Commission for the City of New Britain. The preceding column is provided for informational purposes only. Always consult with an attorney before proceeding. For more information, please visit him on the web at hardwarecitylaw.com or contact him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org