Small Claims Get Results With Big Companies

by | Feb 10, 2014 | *Financial Awakenings, Money Management, Weekly Column

ScaleofJusticeEvery business, no matter how good, will now and then find itself in a position of failing to deliver on a promise. Conscientious companies will quickly admit to the failure and do whatever is reasonable to make things right with the customer. Sometimes such actions even result in strengthening the customer’s faith in and loyalty to the company.

Not all companies, or their employees, are this sensitive to customer service. If the company is small with plenty of competition, customers can easily express dissatisfaction by voting with their feet and their mouths. That is, they can take their business elsewhere and tell others (typically around 200 people) about their bad experience. If a business makes a habit of offending customers, it will eventually fail.

Unfortunately, it isn’t this simple when a large company has a near monopoly on the service you need. The most obvious examples include governmental agencies, public transportation, or public utility companies. Less obvious examples are phone companies, airlines, cable TV companies, or Internet service providers. Even with two or three from which to choose, I frequently find my specific needs limit me to dealing with only one.

In this instance, corporations can easily develop a culture of “you need us more than we need you.” I find few experiences more frustrating than dealing with an unconcerned, uncaring, impotent employee of such a company. They often deny any wrongdoing, refuse to make things right, and imply you are the real problem.

What can you do if you’ve appealed to every level of customer service with no resolution—and the bottom line is that you do need their service more than they need you? I’ve found myself in this situation a handful of times. In every case I received satisfaction by filing a small claims action against the company.

A small claim is a lawsuit for just what the name implies, small-dollar disagreements. In Pennington County, SD, the maximum claim amount is $12,000. Filing a small claim is easy and inexpensive. You don’t need a lawyer. The employees at the office of the Clerk of Courts will walk you through filling out the simple form, calculating the fee (usually under $100), and contacting the defendant. All you need is a written statement of what happened and some written proof of your loss. When your day in court comes, the judge will guide you through the informal hearing. You just need to tell your story and produce paperwork supporting your claim.

However, when you file a small claim against a large company, chances are you won’t ever get to a hearing. The point in filing such a claim really isn’t to have your day in court; it’s to get your grievance switched from the ineffective customer service department to the much more responsive legal department. Since they don’t want to pay a local attorney to show up at a small claim hearing, it’s likely they will negotiate a satisfactory settlement with you.

If they don’t settle with you, be sure to show up at the hearing. I once sued an airline that denied my claim but never made an effort to settle. On the day of the hearing, it was just the judge and me, as a representative for the airline never showed up. The judge ruled in my favor. Within a month, I received a check for the full amount of my claim.

When all else fails, try a small claim. It’s an easy, fast, and often-effective way to make sure you are compensated fairly for a loss. Even more, it’s a way to have your grievance heard.

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