Ask the Attorney:

Question: I hired a landscaper to put in some new trees. The trees died within three months. I contacted him and he said he would replace them. That was over a year ago and he has never come out and now he stopped returning my calls. I think he thinks he can take advantage of me because I’m a senior. Now I want my money back. I paid him over $4,000! What can I do?

Answer: Sorry to hear that happened. You can sue him in Small Claims Court. In Small Claims Court, the cost to sue him is less than $100. The most you can recover in damages is $6,000. This will work for you since you are trying to get back less than that amount. You can only sue for money damages in Small Claims Court; meaning you cannot try to have the Court make him replace the trees. Neither party (you or the landscaper) can have an attorney. You cannot have a jury trial and you cannot appeal the decision. This is why they have a Small Claims Court; so people can sue on their own without it costing thousands of dollars in attorney fees and court costs.

The defendant (landscaper) has the right to remove the case from Small Claims Court to the District Court so he can have an attorney and a jury trial if he chooses. However, this is not common as the cost of the attorney may exceed what the defendant is being sued for (Attorneys!).

A word of advice: The judge does not know you or him from anyone. Meaning the judge does not know who is telling the truth, who is not, or who has the facts mixed up. So bring in anything that will prove what you are saying. For instance; pictures, receipts, guarantees (in ads), letters, telephone log, etc. I would advise you to contact the District Court for the County you live in and ask about Small Claims Court.

Michael B. Walling is an Elder Law attorney with an advance Master of Laws Degree. He is the Managing attorney of The Elder Law Center and the law firm of Michael B. Walling, PLC. Mr. Walling is also a part-time Professor at Western Michigan University. Please send any questions you would like addressed to: The Elder Law Center, 1662 East Centre Avenue, Portage, Michigan 49002. You may also call (269) 324–7344 to set up a free initial consultation. This column is intended for general information purposes only and should not be considered as legal advice to any particular person.