Council Corner: New laws in 2020

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By: Commissioner Robert Weinroth Dist. 4 Special to the Boca Newspaper

You contract to have work done on your house – perhaps a new roof, a resurfaced driveway, maybe an updated bathroom. The contractor fails to perform as promised and remediation costs you thousands of dollars. Now what?

Engaging an attorney to seek damages is probably going to be difficult unless you are willing to pay an hourly rate and at an hourly rate the expense of pursuing the claim will quickly exceed the potential judgment.

The answer is, proceed in small claims court where you can represent yourself. Litigants or parties representing themselves in court without the assistance of an attorney are known as pro se litigants (Latin for in one’s own behalf).

As of Jan. 1, the maximum damages you can seek increased from $6,000 to $8,000 (excluding interest and costs).

Your action can be brought in Palm Beach County if the defendant resides here, the cause of action occurred here, or any property involved with the action is located within the county.

Even if the total claim exceeds the maximum, the matter can be handled as a small claims matter if you are willing to limit your potential recovery to $8,000.

The processing of the paperwork necessary to pursue a claim in a court within Palm Beach County is a fundamental responsibility of the Clerk & Comptroller’s office.

To file the claim, you will first need to bring all of the information and paperwork to the proper courthouse and fill out the appropriate forms. A deputy clerk at the court can assist you.

In addition, free, do-it-yourself workshops are available each month from the Clerk & Comptroller to provide technical assistance.

The Clerk & Comptroller’s Self Service Center is also available to provide access to an attorney for a nominal charge to offer procedural advice (not legal representation).

Anyone 18 years or older, or any individual doing business as a company, may file a small claims case. The party filing a claim is referred to as the “plaintiff.” The party being sued is referred to as the “defendant.”

A claim must designate the proper plaintiff(s) and defendant(s). The determination of the proper party(ies) will depend on whether the party is a person or a business and how the business is set up (e.g., partnership, corporation or sole proprietorship).

Failure to name the proper parties may result in the rejection of the claim or in a judgment that cannot be enforced.

A complete list of the proper parties and how they must be named in the lawsuit is provided at: mypalmbeachclerk.com/resources/frequently-asked-questions-faq/county-civil-court/small-claims

A jury trial can be requested upon “written demand” of the plaintiff when the suit is commenced or upon the defendant’s request within 5 days after service of notice of suit or at the pretrial conference, if any. Otherwise the right to a jury trial is waived.

The fees for filing a claim in small claims court are less than those required to file a lawsuit in the County of Circuit Court.

Some other changes in the law occurred on Jan. 1, which you probably should be aware:

While texting while driving has been prohibited for some time, the full enforcement of the law was delayed until Jan. 1.

The minimum age to purchase cigarettes or vaping products is now the same as alcohol (21).

Florida’s minimum wage increased from $8.46 to $8.56. Florida Amendment 2, $15 Minimum Wage Initiative, will be on the ballot in November. If approved by the voters, the minimum wage in Florida will increase to $10 on Sept. 30, 2021 and then increase $1 each year until Sept. 30, 2026 when it reaches $15.

The state legislature is currently in session. Each year, it meets in Tallahassee for 60-days to address the bills filed by the state representatives and state senators.

These have been referred to as the 60 most dangerous days in Florida due to the unpredictable nature of what will ultimately make it to the governor’s desk for his signature.

Keep your eyes on Tallahassee this month. Things move quickly as the session progresses with a whirlwind of activity until March 13 when the session is scheduled to end.