Your Dispute Shouldn’t be on Daytime TV
Anytime someone has a legal dispute, he has a few options. He could choose to forget about it and continue on with his life (though doing so could leave him paying thousands of dollars for something that wasn’t even his fault). He could take it to Arizona small claims court, in which any amount he’d be granted would be very small. Or, he could take his case to a television small claims court such as Judge Judy or Judge Mathis!
If he wants to get the most compensation and see actual justice served, however, he should take his case to an experienced personal injury attorney.
But going back, what is the difference between small claims court in Arizona and appearing on a television show? Many! Those who take their disputes to a TV court generally do so because they are seeking their fifteen minutes of fame (and possibly a free trip). While taking your claim to Arizona’s courts won’t provide a free trip or notoriety, it will pay a much fairer amount.
Are Court TV Shows Real?
This is one of the biggest questions surrounding court shows. And the answer is yes, but they’re not the same as courts you’d find under a specific state’s jurisdiction.
The judges on court shows are typically lawyers, either who have retired or are looking to retire in the near future. (A few are actual judges, usually no longer practicing.) These lawyers who act as judges will often yell at one or more of the parties involved, and make jokes throughout. They’ll also make comments that are not entirely professional, whether about a person’s appearance or how cute a dog is during a dog bite case. These are comments that you probably won’t hear in any other type of court proceeding.
That drama itself is not entirely real. Often, participants will overdramatize their cases in order to provoke reactions, or they’ll create a spectacle to capitalize on their few minutes of fame as much as possible. Except for Judge Judy, who tolerates very little disorder in her courtroom, most TV judges allow these exaggerations and bickering between contestants because they make for good television. That’s the thing: what’s seen on TV is for entertainment purposes only. What’s seen in actual court is a search for justice.
The hearings seen on television are not real trials—they are actually arbitration. Arbitration is a legal process also known as alternative dispute resolution. It can be used to work through disputes without high legal costs or being required to appear in actual court.
Before even going on TV, participants have to drop their legal claims, and enter into a binding arbitration agreement with the show. They cannot have the decision appealed or overturned, and this is one way that televised court is similar to Arizona small claims court. However, the biggest difference between television court and actual court is that the party found at fault does not have to pay the verdict. The show will always pay all damages, and if there are no damages to be paid, both parties will get an appearance fee just for being on the show!
Because of this, television judges are likely to award smaller amounts. In order to save the show money, they may award the smallest amount of damages possible!
How Does Small Claims Court Work in Arizona?
Arizona small claims court allows people with legal disputes to take that disagreement to a judge or hearing officer who will settle it for them. Again, the decision will be binding and the at-fault party will have to pay damages to the wronged party. (Small claims rulings cannot be appealed.) Small claims court can settle financial debts, personal injury claims, property damage, and breaches of contract. All disputes, no matter the type of claim, must be seeking total damages less than $3,500—that’s what makes it “small claims court.”
In small claims court, both sides represent their own case and lawyers are not present. This doesn’t mean that people cannot seek the advice of an attorney before going to small claims court. In fact, it’s a very good idea. An attorney can provide valuable guidance and insight to a case and give people a better chance of winning. A lawyer can also let you know whether or not small claims court is the best option for your case.
When Your Claim Is Too Big for TV or Small Claims Court
While not a “real” court, court TV shows are still considered small claims court. And they highlight why, even when a case is not being televised, it’s better to hire an attorney to take on your claim instead of doing it yourself.
This was evident in a recent Judge Judy case concerning a person who had been attacked by a dog. Derek Dyrenforth went to Judge Judy to sue his neighbor, Breck Roberts, for vet bills, medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering.
Dyrenforth was walking his dog, a Labrador, outside of Roberts’s home when she opened the door and two pit bulls ran outside and attacked his dog. One of the pit bulls had the Labrador’s head in its jaws, and Dyrenforth reacted to save his dog. While the dog was saved, Dyrenforth was bitten and also fell to the ground in the struggle, hurting his shoulder (an injury that required surgery).
Dyrenforth had plenty of documentation to back up his claim, including the vet’s report, a doctor’s report, and medical bills showing how much he paid to treat the injury. After reading this documentation, Judge Judy awarded Dyrenforth $1,800 in damages.
But that’s a paltry sum considering what Mr. Dyrenforth had been through. While it may have compensated for his medical bills, it did not compensate for his loss of income when he couldn’t work, or his pain and suffering. If he had taken his case to a lawyer, there’s a very good chance that he would have fared much better.
Let’s use a real-life example: we at Breyer Law Offices, P.C., represented a woman who was bitten by a dog. The insurance company initially offered her a very low amount. We took the case and got her damages increased to $122,000. This included her actual injury, her emotional trauma, and her loss of income from being unable to work.
Now, we can’t guarantee the same results for everybody; but that’s a big difference, and it’s one that many accident victims could be missing out on if they choose to go on TV instead of talking to a lawyer. You don’t always know how an injury will affect you in the long run, but we’ve seen lots of accidents in our careers.
Bottom Line: If You’re Injured, Talk to a Lawyer First!
The differences between televised court cases, small claims court, and state court are huge, and every case is unique. After an accident, it’s honestly best to speak to a personal injury lawyer. Our team at Breyer Law Offices, P.C., can help you if you have any questions—even if we don’t take your case, we can definitely guide you in the right direction. There’s no charge for a consultation, so contact us if you need us anytime!
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During a free consultation, we will look at the important aspects of your case, answer your questions, and explain your legal rights and options clearly. All submissions are confidentially reviewed by Mark Breyer.
Confidentially reviewed by Attorney Mark Breyer