Small Claims Court Basics

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Small Claims courts are not that scary if you are prepared.

Small Claims courts are not that scary if you are prepared.

You probably know that if someone owes you money, or causes you property damage or injury, you have the right to sue in small claims court. But you may not know the basics of how small claims court cases work. Here is some free self help info on that topic to help you out.

1. Small Claims Court Has Monetary Limits.

In California, the current limit to a small claims case brought by an individual is $10,000. That means you can ask for $10,000 or less in a small claims court case.

There are lower limits for businesses who file multiple cases in a year, and for auto accident cases where there is auto accident cases where there is confirmed auto insurance coverage.

These limits change with time. But you do not have to worry about it prior to filing a case.

If a plaintiff asks for too much money in a small claims court case, the court will give that party the option of being bound by the limits, or refiling the case in the General Civil Division of the court where there are no limits on damages.

2. File Your Small Claims Court Case in the Right County.

Every Superior Court in California has a Small Claims division. The correct county court for a small claims case is the county where the incident took place, or the county where the defendant resides. There are some exceptions to this rule, but in general pick the county where the incident occurred.

3. The #1 Reason Cases Are Dismissed is Because of Improper Service of Process.

After you file a small claims case, you can avoid the #1 reason claims get dismissed by hiring a professional, licensed process server to serve your papers on defendants.

4. Small Claims Court Trials Are Very Short.

Courts limit the resources they provide to small claims cases, and plaintiffs need to plan for that fact. Nearly all small claims court trials take less than 1 day in court. Courts will generally not give a continuance to a plaintiff for the purpose of getting more evidence. Plaintiffs need to be prepared for trial on the day of trial.

5. Attorneys Are Not Allowed in Small Claims Court Trials.

Small Claims courts in California are truly a “People’s Court”. Individuals must present and defend their small claims cases “pro Per”, which means representing themselves. Attorneys are only allowed to represent a small claims party in very limited exceptions to this rule. However, the parties are allowed to consult with attorneys prior to trial, and to get attorney coaching for their case.

6. Small Claims Judgements Are Enforceable, But It Takes Effort.

Many people think that small claims court judgements are useless. This is only true if a judgment creditor gives up on their claims. There is a process available to judgement creditors that allows them to use the court and the sheriff’s departments to seize assets, levy bank accounts, and to garnish wages.

There you go. Some free basic info that hopefully increases your knowledge of the small claims court system.

Questions? Leave a comment.

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