As we all know, hiring an attorney can be expensive. This common-knowledge may prevent someone from pursuing a valid claim for a legal wrong they have suffered. Imagine how frustrating it would be to suffer legal harm at the hands of another, but feel like you have no way to be made whole for the damage you suffered. So, what should one do in this type of scenario?
One answer may be to pursue your claim in Small Claims Court. Pursuant to ORS 46.405(2), “all actions for the recovery of money, damages, specific personal property, or any penalty or forfeiture must be commenced and prosecuted in the small claims department if the amount or value claimed in the action does not exceed $750.” Furthermore, “an action for the recovery of money, damages, specific personal property, or any penalty or forfeiture may be commenced and prosecuted in the commenced and prosecuted in the small claims department if the amount or value claimed in the action does not exceed $10,000.” ORS 46.405(3). So long as your claim complies with ORS 46.405, you may bring your claim in small claims court. Detailed instructions for filing a claim in small claims court in Oregon can be found on your circuit court’s website. For example, instructions for filing in Multnomah County can be found at http://courts.oregon.gov/Multnomah/docs/form/SmallClaims_InstructionsForPlaintiffF0577.pdf
Unfortunately, there may be one giant problem with pursuing your claim in small claims court. For example, if you file a Small Claim and Notice of Small Claim in Multnomah County, then the defendant may request a jury trial. If the defendant does properly request a jury trial, then “you must file a formal Complaint within 20 days after the court sends you notice to do so. If you don’t, the case will be dismissed and you may have to pay the defendant’s fees plus a prevailing party fee.” 05-77 (11/13) Small Claims – Plaintiff’s Instructions, at 6. If that happens, then you should consult with an attorney. So, what do you do if you are at this point and do not feel like you can afford an attorney?
Fortunately, there are several Oregon statutes that require the losing side to pay the winning side’s attorney fees. For example, if your landlord wrongfully withholds your Security Deposit, or does not properly account to you for any portion of the Security Deposit that has been withheld, then under ORS 90, you would be entitled to twice the amount of any funds improperly withheld. Additionally, and more relevant to this reading . . . the losing party would be required to pay the winning party’s attorney fees and costs. Executive Management v. Juckett, 274 Or 515, 547 P2d 603 (1976). At this point, you may be thinking, “that’s great, but my Claim does not involve a landlord/tenant issue”.
Well, there are other statutes that may allow you to recover attorneys’ fees if you prevail in your matter. For example, pursuant to ORS 20.080(1), attorney fees must be awarded to a prevailing plaintiff “for damages for an injury or wrong to the person or property, or both, of another where the amount pleaded is $10,000 or less” in most cases. Moreover, ORS 20.082(2)(a) requires the court to award attorneys’ fees to a prevailing plaintiff on any claim based on contract if “[t]he amount of the principal together with interest due on the contract at the time the claim is filed is $10,000 or less” in most cases. What does this mean for you?
This means even if you cannot afford to pay an attorney, you may be able to find an attorney who will take your case (depending on the validity of your claim), with little up-front expense to yourself. In fact, depending on your circumstances, you may find an attorney willing to take your case on a contingency basis. Here at SW Portland Law Group, LLC, Partner Al McClain is available to discuss your potential claims that would provide a basis for the other side to pay your attorneys’ fees. So, please do not hesitate to call.