This article is aimed to be a short FAQ, explaining the "nuts-and-bolts" of the Bulgarian court proceedings. I've been asked these questions thousand times, so I decided to write a brief description of the claim process in Bulgaria.
Q: What are the court expenses?
A: The court expenses are separated in several subcategories:
- Court fee/State fee - the court fee in Bulgaria is fixed. It is calculated on the basis of the amount you claim. The usual fee is 4% of the claim amount. In rare cases,explicitly stated in the law, the court fee is 2% of the claimed amount. The court fee has to be paid prior filing the claim.
2. Attorney fee - the attorney fee can be negotiated with the particular lawyer who represents in in court. There is no fixed amount for the attorney fee.
3. Experts fees - expert fees can occur only if special expert opinion is needed during the case proceedings. For example, if you need to calculate your interest over the money you are owed by the defendant. Expert opinion may be needed if the court needs to establish the authenticiy of a signature or needs to estimate if the construction plans match the actual building status.
- Travel costs - if the lawsuit is heard in another city, the clients should cover the lawyer travels expenses e.g. petrol costs, hotels costs etc.
Q: How long a lawsuit will take?
A: It depends where the court proceedings will take place. If your case is to be heard in Sofia and you claim EUR 15,000 or more, your case will be heard in Sofia City Court. In this case it's likely that your "court battle" will last 1-2 years. If the defendant you sue is registered in a city other than Sofia, it's likely you will get a court resolution wihtin a year.
Q: Can I speed up the court process?
A: A kind of. If you claim part of your money (upto 25,000 levs or about EUR 12,500) you can file a partial claim in the Regional Court (lower court). The advantage is that the Regional Court is working quicker and you will get a court resolution sooner than the Sofia City Court. The disadvantage is that if you get a positive court resolution it will be for the part of your money. The good thing is that you can enclose the old court resolution and file another claim for the rest of teh money.
Q: How likely is that I get a positive court resolution for my case?
A: Each particular case needs to be reviewed separately. There is no common estimation of that matter.
Q: Will I get my money back?
A: It depends on the debtor. There are several sources you can get your money from. You should seach for property, bank accounts, vehicles, subsidiary companies of the debtor. If the properties are mortgaged by third party, you cannot benefit from that property.
Q: How about the company managers and partners? Can I get my money from them?
A: No, you cannot! The legal entity of the Limited Liability Company (LLC) prevents creditors pursuing company managers and owenrs. There are few cases in which the owners are liable for their company's debts, but I will not get in details here.
Q: Can I do something to prevent the debtor from selling their assets while my case is being heard in court?
A: Yes, you can. You can ask your lawyer to initialte a security procedure. You should ask the court to issue a lien order. This order can be used to "freeze" debtor assest while your case is heard in court. You will be able to benefit those assets after yo uget a positive court resolution.
The lien is not mandatory. It has to be asked for. The judge is not obliget to issue a lien order. The judge estimates the case and decides at its own discretion. If a lien orer is issued, you sill be asked b ythe court to transfer a deposit to the court bank account. This eposit is usually about 5% of the claimed amount. It is used to secure the defendant if the latter proves damages caused by the lien (and you lose the case).
The court process can be described as follows:
Filing the claim
Sending a copy of the claim to the defendant
The defendant sends an answer to the claim
Additional documents exchange
The judge sets a date for the first court hearing
Firts court hearing: collecting evidence (interrogating witneses, presenting documents, requiring documents from state authorities)
Second hearing: presenting the paries' pleads.
Depending of the judge, additional hearings can be set.
Setting the case for resolution. The judge is obliged to resolve the case within one month after the last court hearing.
The problem points are 2,3 and 4. These are the points that delay the case. The summons are extremely slow to be delivered, as the delivery men don't do their job dilligently. Moreover, the defendant usually hides and this slows down the process too.