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If Somebody Writes You a Bad Check, You Can Sue Them in Small Claims Court

for Three Times Amount

March 13, 2000

Here are some suggestions on seeking compensation when you are stuck with a bad check.

The law is clear:

* Any person who writes a check that is dishonored for lack of funds is civilly liable and can be sued in Small Claims Court or any appropriate court for three times the amount of the check, plus the face value of the check.

* The minimum you may collect is $100, so if you have a $15 bad check, you can sue for $115. The maximum amount in damages you may collect is $500, so if you have a bad check for $600, you can sue for $1,100.

* You may also sue for costs such as filing and service fees; these costs are awarded at the judge's discretion.

* You do not need to prove that the check writer "knowingly" wrote a bad check as is required under the Criminal Code. You must prove only that the check writer failed to make good on the check after being notified.

* These damages are allowed by law in a civil action and do not take the place of any criminal prosecution that may be imposed by local law enforcement officials.

If You Receive a Bank Notice That a Check Has Been Dishonored:

* Contact the writer of the check either in person, by telephone or by letter. Notify the writer that the check has been returned and that you request immediate payment.

* If you fail to receive immediate payment, one of your options is to begin civil procedures to collect damages. At this point, you should mail the demand letter required by law demanding payment. Send this letter by certified mail with a return receipt requested. The returned receipt is a valuable addition to your evidence in court.

* If you haven't received payment after 30 days from the date you mailed the demand letter, file your claim in Small Claims or Municipal Court. This will require filling out forms and paying a fee. You may be able to recover the fee if you obtain favorable judgment; this is up to the court.

* You will be notified by the court of the date your case will be heard. You should be prepared to prove your attempts to collect. Take all documents related to the case. These might include the notice from the bank, notes of your conversation and copies of any correspondence with the check writer regarding your effort to collect, a copy of your demand letter and return certified receipt. It is a good idea to take with you the person who accepted the check. This is for the purpose of identifying the writer and testifying about any initials, identification or information written on the check.

* A favorable judgment is good for 10 years.

Source: Los Angeles County

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