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Treble Damages in Small Claims

Discussion in 'Judgement Enforcement & Collection' started by LawNewbie, Sep 13, 2019.

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  1. LawNewbie

    LawNewbie Law Topic Starter New Member

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    Jurisdiction:
    New York
    So I’m starting the collection process on a case I won back in March ‘19. I’m preparing information subpoenas and getting everything together but looking ahead, I think I might be eligible to motion for treble damages on my judgement because the debtor has a few outstanding judgements on file with the county clerk. My questions are regarding this eligibility:

    Is there a statute of limitations against the amount of time a judgement has been outstanding? For example, if the creditor motions for Treble Damages on a case litigated in 2019, can a case from 2011 (still with outstanding judgement) be referenced to satisfy the requirements for Treble Damages?

    Additionally, do all 3 (or more) cases need to be of a similar nature? For example, if the creditor is motioning for Treble Damages on a case dealing with employee negligence, can a case related to state taxes (still with outstanding judgement) be referenced to satisfy the requirements for Treble Damages?

    Thanks for anyone’s help on this!
     
  2. adjusterjack

    adjusterjack Super Moderator

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    Where do you get the idea that you can get treble damages because somebody has other judgments? Cite the statute or rule.

    Also explain who you sued (no names), why you sued, and how much you won.
     
  3. LawNewbie

    LawNewbie Law Topic Starter New Member

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    It’s written on pg22 of the NY Attorney General’s guide to small claims and commercial small claims, pdf available online.

    A sued a company for a faulty oil change that resulted in damages to my car and was awarded ~800 in damages.
     
  4. adjusterjack

    adjusterjack Super Moderator

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    http://www.nycourts.gov/courts/nyc/smallclaims/pdfs/smallclaims.pdf

    Which also doesn't cite a statute or rule and says "you MAY be able to sue..." That's way too iffy to count on it.

    "Guides" are not law. Don't rely on them without verifying what the law says.

    I suggest you call whatever agency wrote that and ask for a citation of the authority behind the statement.
     
  5. Tax Counsel

    Tax Counsel Well-Known Member

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    It is a rule that applies to New York City small claims court judgments. See New York City Civil Court Act § 1812.

    A couple of things to note. First, this is rule designed to target businesses who can pay but stiff customers who sue the business in small claims court and don't pay the judgments betting that lots of customers won't know how to enforce the judgment and collect. For that reason, your judgment have been one that "resulted from a transaction in the course of the trade or business of the judgment debtor, or arose out of a repeated course of dealing or conduct of the judgment debtor."

    So what was this judgment for? Was the lawsuit against the business related to a transaction you had with the business. Or was the judgment related to transactions you had from a repeated course of dealing with the defendant? If the answer to both of those is no, then you cannot make use of this provision.

    The rule requires that the defendant had the ability to pay those other judgments. Can you prove that the defendant could pay them?

    Also, the law requires that the defendant have failed to pay those other judgments after receiving a particular notice of the judgment. That notice is different than the notice the defendant gets after judgment is entered against him/her in court. Do you know if the defendant got those notices?

    There is also the problem that it appears from the few cases on this that exist that if the treble damages would exceed the small claims court limit that you will not be able to sue for this in small claims court, at least not without limiting your claim to the small claims limit. You may have to go to a different court that may hear your claim.

    The law does not set a limit on how far back you can go, but I suspect that the judgments must still be good. Stale judgments that are now no longer enforceable probably are not going to count.
     
  6. LawNewbie

    LawNewbie Law Topic Starter New Member

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    Thanks for all these replies, especially the specific citation! Let me answer some questions:

    What was the judgement for?

    This business is a car wash/oil change that performed a faulty oil change for my mother in december ‘18. We were unaware until a few hours later on the road when the engine seized and the car was inoperable on the highway. I was driving with my sister and baby niece in the car. We had to replace the engine which was >$3000 but the company refused to reimburse anything more than the ~$40 oil change fees, so we sued.

    We won the case and were awarded ~700 because the company argued that the 2004 model was worth less than what we were asking for. Whatever.

    Can you prove that the business could pay them?

    In my case, the defendant was incorporated and we had to motion to update our documents AFTER winning the case in order to have the sheriff begin collections against them, because we sued using the (very similar) DBA name. However, the corporation dissolved exactly six days after the court date back in March. So the sheriff can’t collect on an entity that doesn’t exist anymore. To be clear, the place of business is still operating as if nothing went wrong, they clearly were using a common tactic to avoid liability. I don’t know if this is sufficient proof that they had/have the means to pay but it’s frustratingly shady.

    As to the other two cases I’d like to reference for treble damages, I think I’ll have to try and access the records at my county clerk office but I believe at least one of them was litigated for a similar issue to mine and was judged for ~$3500 in favor of the plaintiff. I don’t know if the company used the same dissolution tactic in this case. Am I able to try and contact the plaintiff and inquire? The other is for an issue with the state tax department so I’m worried that it won’t count towards the 3 examples I need to qualify.

    Do you know if the defendant got those notices?

    Could you speak more about these follow up notices? In my case, I can only say for sure that they got the initial judgement notice. The court doesn’t get involved with collection on small claims issues so I don’t know what other notice they would’ve gotten on mine or any other.

    The treble damages may exceed the limit.

    In my case, the original judgement was around ~$700. With treble damages applied, and with all subsequent administrative and processing fees applied, we’d probably be awarded ~$2500, well under the $5000 limit in NY, and STILL less than we originally sued for.

    Stale judgements that are no longer enforceable probably are not going to count.

    The cases I’d like to reference don’t go back any further than 2010.

    ——————————————

    Thanks again! As frustrating as this process is, it’s very interesting. I feel like I’ve taken on a semester of Law Studies just navigating the small claims system...
     
  7. Zigner

    Zigner Well-Known Member

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    Why did you sue for damages to your mother's car?
     
  8. LawNewbie

    LawNewbie Law Topic Starter New Member

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    I use “I” in this case because I was the driver at the time of the incident. All docs are filed with her name but we have both been present at every hearing so far.
     
  9. Zigner

    Zigner Well-Known Member

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    Yes, but it is HER case. You are a witness. That is all.
     
  10. LawNewbie

    LawNewbie Law Topic Starter New Member

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    How does this affect the process towards treble damages? I’m posting here because I have the time to research all the policies/procedures/etc on behalf of my mom. The case is already won.
     
  11. Zigner

    Zigner Well-Known Member

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    Because, legally, there's only so much you can do.
     

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