As long as you are 18 years of age, of sound mind and body, and you’re suing on your own claim, you can bring a case in small claims court. If you are a minor under 18 years of age, your complaint must be filed by a parent or guardian. If a claim is being filed on behalf of an association or other entity that’s not a natural person, a regular employee of the entity must act on the entity’s behalf. The courts prefer the employee to have firsthand knowledge of the issue in dispute.
Small claims court is for all claims for money or the recovery of personal property valued at under $750. Small claims court also can be used for the same kinds of claims valued from $750 to $7,500 by people who do not want to use a lawyer and who want to get their case heard relatively quickly. Class action suits and actions that call for statutory attorney fees cannot be heard in small claims court.
Breach of contract: you were promised money or another form of reward that you did not receive, even though you held up your side of the bargain.
Intentional harm: Someone purposely libeled or slandered you (said something false about you that hurt your reputation.) Because the kids down the street “tee-peed” your house, you had to hire a specialty cleaning crew to remove the paper.
Bad debt: A business or person owes you money and will not pay you.
Personal injury: You have been physically injured in an accident-automobile, slip and fall, an elbow to the eye, etc.-caused by the other party.
Product liability: A product you purchased does not work.
Failure to return a security deposit: You moved out of a rented space and the landlord won’t give you back your security deposit or wants to deduct costs he or she has no right to deduct.
Professional malpractice: Your accountant made a mistake that caused you to lose money or otherwise harm your business.
Public or private nuisance: The local Nazi party gathers to play German military songs -loudly- every afternoon in the neighborhood park and you fear your safety is at risk. Your neighbor insists on storing his garbage cans across from your bedroom window, where you not only can see but also smell them.
Determining the strength of your case involves your ability to prove that you’re in the right. Proving your case involves being prepared with a good argument, having indisputable evidence, and possibly having a witness who can corroborate your story. In some instances, you must also show that you attempted in good faith to settle the case before it got to the hearing stage.
The adage “show not tell” applies to small claims cases. You can’t just argue why you think you should win. You have to support your case with facts, evidence and (if possible) the testimony of others to bolster your side of the story. If you have all three of these elements, you’re in the best situation you can possibly be in for winning your case.
Small claims court, often referred to as the people’s court, almost always establishes a more informal atmosphere and a more relaxed procedure than higher courts. Most small claims plaintiffs represent themselves. Some states prohibit lawyers in small claims, but a surprising number of states allow the parties to be represented. In many states, being represented by an attorney is required for a collection agency or a corporation. If one party has an attorney, the other party is usually allowed an attorney to level the playing field. For a comprehensive overview of how to present yourself effectively in small claims court, please see Section J above of the mySmallClaim A to Z Small Claims Learning Center.
You can sue for the amount you are owed up to the court’s maximum amount, exclusive of filing fees, service fees and other costs, for your state. If you win, the judgment in most cases allow for your reimbursement of these expenditures. In certain cases, limits do not apply. In special instances, you are allowed to ask for triple damages. Please refer to Section D above and the chart listing the dollar amount limit of each state for a small claims case.
Jurisdiction determines the filing of a small claims case-and vice versa. The rule of thumb is the court in closest physical proximity to where the incident or accident occurred or where the nature of the problem arose is the court of proper venue. If, for example, you live in the northern party of your county, but the auto accident in which you were involved happened (in the same county) forty miles south, then you would file your suit in the court that has jurisdiction over the southern section of the county. If you purchased goods or services via the Internet, by mail or over the telephone, the court nearest where you live or work typically claims jurisdiction because work or home is where your part of the transaction took place.
Statute of limitations refers to the amount of time a plaintiff has to file a claim after they discover that damage has been done. For small claims this length of time varies, ranging in most cases from one to four years. Plaintiffs must be sure to file before the statute of limitations expires on their case or they may lose their right to sue.
In California, a legal entity, such as a partnership or corporation, may file for up to $5,000 and an individual may file for up to $7,500.
If that’s the case, you would better off hiring a lawyer and taking your suit to a higher court.
Usually, a plaintiff would file the claim in the district in which the defendant lives. If the defendant is out of state, then the plaintiff must file in the state in which the defendant resides, which makes the small claims process, due to its low monetary awards, less attractive.
It takes about two months for a case to be heard in California, although this can certainly vary from court to court.
Whether you’re a defendant or a plaintiff in a small claims case, you want to make sure you understand the process and what’s expected. As the one bringing suit, defining exactly what you are suing for and the monetary damages is essential. Then you must collect evidence, including witnesses, documentation and other materials to back up your claim. As a defendant, you must create a reasonable defense that may also include witnesses and documentation. Facts are essential in any court case. You can’t just be right; you must prove your case.
California small claims courts are filled with cases and judges have large caseloads. The answer is to present your case as clearly as possible with the essential information offered first. In a few minutes, you want to describe your claim, how it came about and for how much you are suing. Come into the courtroom as organized as possible and have your packet of evidence, a copy of which you should give to the court, as complete as can be. You’ll have five minutes or less to present your case.
A typical small claims hearing in California lasts approximately 15 minutes.
The answer is “no”. You may consult a lawyer and have they put together your case, but in California the plaintiff and defendant must both represent themselves during the hearing.
The judge could give you a decision immediately after all testimony is given and evidence presented. However, he/she may need some time to decide the case. If that happens, you’ll usually hear from the court through the mail in about two weeks.
Only the defendant may appeal. The only occasion that a plaintiff may appeal is if the defendant named them in a countersuit. And in that case, they would be appealing as a defendant. If a plaintiff loses their case, they have no recourse to appeal.
Failure to follow proper procedure may result in the case being delayed or even thrown out.
No, the plaintiff may not do so. An independent agent, such as a process server, must complete the “service process.” Anyone who is 18 years old or older and not connected to the case may serve the defendant. The process server must submit a “proof of service” claim to the court clerk at least five days prior to the court date. This form verifies that the defendant was served a copy of the claim in a proper manner.
In California, the minimum time is 15 days before the court date for those within the county and 20 days for those residing outside of the county. This does not actually count for the day of court hearing as a day so add 1 day prior to hearing date.
In the State of California, defendants may countersue.
It is the responsibility of the plaintiff to name the defendant in an accurate manner, making sure that the defendant’s legal name is used. If you use the wrong name or designate the defendant in an inaccurate manner, even if you win your case, you may not be able to collect your judgment. You must also provide either the defendant’s legal home address or work address. If suing a government entity, you must first file a claim with that entity prior to pursuing a small claims case. The day of the hearing, you must give the defendant a package of all evidence you are going to present to the court.
No, it’s not. If a defendant has few assets or does not have a steady job, then they may not have the means to pay and you may be left with nothing more than a courtroom victory. Also, defendants can make it difficult for you to track them down, making payment less certain.
You must contact the defendant and request payment. However, if they are resistant then you may have to get a Writ of Execution and have their wagers garnished or their bank account attached.