Picture this: you had the wedding day of your dreams, documented by someone you imagined to be a professional wedding photographer. When you finally see the pictures, they are blurry, under-exposed and your Best Man’s head is cut out of the frame of every photo.
You have already paid the photographer upfront for a service that he has not delivered to your satisfaction and he refuses to refund your money. But you are reluctant to spend thousands on a lawyer to recover the R3,500 you paid for the photographs. The Small Claims Court – which only handles cases relating to claims below R12,000 – might be your best route to seek compensation.
One benefit of the Small Claims Court is that you will represent yourself, which means that you will not rack up exorbitant legal fees as you seek to claim a fairly small amount of money.
Though you may ask an attorney for advice at your own cost, there are legal assistants and clerks of the Small Claims Courts who will assist you free of charge. The steps that you will take to initiate your claim are simple and the process is fairly speedy compared to going through a civil court.
Before you initiate the case in the Small Claims Court, you should contact the person or company you are claiming against – in this case, the photographer – face to face, in writing or telephonically and ask them to satisfy your claim. If they refuse, deliver a written demand by hand or registered post to the opposing party.
If you don’t get a satisfactory response after 14 days, you may approach the clerk of the court with documents such as proof that the written demand was delivered, any contract or other document that supports your claim, and the full name, address and telephone number of the opposing party.
The clerk of the court will issue a summons that they will send to the photographer. The clerk of the court will also inform you of the date and time of the hearing of the case.
When the photographer receives the summons he may then decide he was in the wrong or that he doesn’t feel like wasting his time in court, and pay you before the case talks place. In that instance, give him a receipt and inform the clerk of the court that the case won’t proceed. On the other hand, the incompetent photographer might deliver a written plea to the clerk of the court or issue a counterclaim. In these cases, the court proceedings will go ahead.
On the day of the hearing, you must appear in court in person and bring with you the documents on which your claim is based. During the hearing, the commissioner of the court will listen to your account of the incident, ask questions and look at your evidence. He or she will also question the photographer.
Listen closely and inform the commissioner of any facts you believe have not been presented accurately.
After the commissioner has heard your account of the incident, the photographer’s and any witnesses, the court can pass judgment. The judgment is final. If the judgment is in your favour, the photographer must pay up immediately. If he can’t comply with the judgment immediately, the court will investigate his financial position and make an appropriate ruling around repayment.
The whole process is easy, quick and low risk. It is one of the best ways to seek justice or compensation from an unethical supplier if you are claiming less than R12 000 and don’t have time and money to spend on a drawn-out court case.
*For more information on Legal & Tax, visit http://www.legalandtax.co.za, call 0860 LTS LTS (587 587) or email email@example.com.