Visitor Question

Can I request punitive damage in small claims court?

Submitted By: Liz (Connecticut)

I loaned money to a friend to help cover costs for a family emergency. I drafted and had him sign a promissory note indicating that he would repay the amount in 5 installments over a period of 5 months which ends next month.

To date, I have received 1 “good” payment. He has given me two checks that have bounced and I received those checks only after constant “reminders” and “requests.” I gave him the opportunity to renegotiate the terms of the loan to a lower payment, I also gave him the opportunity to “recover” funds or at least admitting to me that he has difficulty making the payments.

Instead of doing this he gives me bad checks in the amount as specified in the original agreement. On my last verbal request to him for payment he told me to go “f— myself.” I found his response to be so offensive and insidious that I have decided to file a small claims complaint demanding the balance of the money owed, plus consequential damages (I borrowed the money from my 401k account) plus punitive damages. Please advise.

I am at the law library as I write this and I am not finding much of anything that says that I can even ask for punitive damages in a small claims court in Connecticut. My understanding is that punitive damages are damages intended to reform or deter the defendant and others from engaging in conduct similar to that which formed the basis of the lawsuit.

I think, however, if there was any example of insidious behavior that would warrant a “lesson to be learned” ruling it would be this one. Thanks for any info you can give.

Disclaimer: Our response is not formal legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship. It is generic legal information based on the very limited information provided. Do not rely upon the information in our response, or anywhere else on this site, when deciding the proper course of a legal matter. Always get a personalized case review from a local attorney.

Answer

Dear Liz,

Most small claims courts do not award punitive damages. This is primarily because the “trials” in small claims are limited and the court is not in a position to address issues that would lead them to award damages such as whether the conduct was willful and egregious.

If you are wanting to seek punitive damages, it may be better to file in civil court with causes of action like breach of written contract and/or account stated.

Though the filing fee is higher in civil court, if you are owed a significant sum, it may be worth it to you to go this route. If not, you may be limited to actual damages, i.e. the precise amount borrowed less payments, plus interest (if included in your promissory note).

The above is general information. Laws change frequently, and across jurisdictions. You should get a personalized case evaluation from a licensed attorney. Find a local attorney to give you a free case review here , or call (888) 647-2490.

Best of luck,

Published: January 17, 2011

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