Small Claims

Small Claims Basics

Small Claims court is a court in which disputes can be resolved quickly and inexpensively. Unlike a formal lawsuit, the rules in Small Claims court are straightforward and less formal. The technical rules of evidence that apply in formal courts do not apply in small claims. Generally, each party tells their version of the events that led to the dispute, showing any pictures or documents or other proof related to the claim.  You can have witnesses who know about the issue. It is assumed that litigants can represent themselves, and therefore attorneys are not allowed to appear in small claims court. This does not mean, however, that you cannot consult with an attorney about your case, or hire an attorney to assist you in preparing your Small Claims documents.

Generally speaking, an individual cannot ask for more than $10,000.00 in a claim. Businesses and other entities cannot ask for more than $5,000.00 in a claim. Collections agencies are barred from suing in Small Claims court in an attempt to collect on debts that have been assigned to them.

The most common types of cases brought in Small Claims court relate to property damage or personal injury from car accidents, collection of money owed, or damage to a property from a neighbor or contractor. This list is not meant to be exhaustive, but rather to give you an idea of whether your claim may belong in Small Claims court.

Deadlines to file your lawsuit exist and must be adhered to. Otherwise known as a “Statute of Limitations,” once this time expires, your legal claim will no longer be considered valid. The time you have to file your lawsuit depends on the type of claim you are making. Generally speaking, if you are suing for an injury suffered, you have two years from the date of injury. If you are suing for breach of an oral agreement, you have two years from the date the agreement was broken to file suit. If you are suing because of a written agreement, you have four years from the date the agreement was broken to file suit. Again, this list is not meant to be exhaustive, but rather give you an idea that time can be of the essence depending on the facts of your case.

If you feel as though you may have a case that should be filed in Small Claims court, please contact us today to speak with an attorney and complete your free 30-minute case evaluation. Hablamos Español.

Small Claims FAQs

How much can I ask for in Small Claims court?

Generally speaking, an individual cannot ask for more than $10,000.00 in a claim. Businesses and other entities cannot ask for more than $5,000.00 in a claim. Collections agencies are barred from suing in Small Claims court in an attempt to collect on debts that have been assigned to them.

How much does it cost to file in Small Claims court?

The filing fee is based on the amount of your claim and the number of claims you have filed in Small Claims court in the past 12 months. If you have filed less than 12 claims in the past 12 months, the following filing fees apply:

Amount of Claim Filing Fee
$0.00 to $1,500.00 $30.00
$1,500.00 to $5,000.00 $50.00
$5,000.00 to $10,000.00 $75.00

 If you have filed more than 12 claims in the past 12 months, the filing fee for any claim amount is $100.00 per claim.

What if I have difficulty speaking English?

You are allowed to take an interpreter with you to your court hearing. The interpreter can be a friend or family member, but must be an adult and must not be someone you intend to call as a witness in your case. Additionally, the interpreter will only be allowed to translate what you say to the Judge, not assist you in arguing your case to the Judge.

What if I am not mentally competent to appear in Small Claims court? Or I am not 18 years old?

You may still bring a claim in Small Claims court. However, you must request that the court appoint a “Guardian Ad Litem” to represent you. This individual will be granted the authority to represent you in the specific claim you are requesting only.

How long after filing my Small Claims Complaint can I expect my hearing to occur?

Since the Small Claims process proceeds on an expedited timeline, you can expect your hearing to be calendared sometime between 20 and 70 days after you file. If you are the Plaintiff, you must appear in court. If the defendant is active military, they may be excused from appearing.

Who goes to Court when a Business is suing or being sued?

Typically, if there is only one owner of a business, that owner must appear in Court. If the claim can be proven by evidence of a business account that a regular employee with knowledge of the account can explain, then the employee may be able to appear on behalf of the owner. If the business is a Partnership, at least one of the Partners must appear. If the business is a Corporation, typically an officer or director must go to court. That person cannot be hired just to represent the Corporation and cannot be the Corporation’s attorney.

What can I expect at my Small Claims hearing?

Small Claims hearings are, by necessity, short and succinct. For this reason, you must prepare to present your case well in advance of your hearing date. The judge will listen to both sides of the story. To make your case clearly, you must present evidence to the Judge such as witness testimony, photos, and supporting documents.

The Judge may make a decision the day of your hearing or take “the matter under submission,” which means you will get the Judge’s decision in the mail at a later date.

If the person being sued (Defendant) does not appear at the hearing, the person who filed the lawsuit (Plaintiff) must still present their case to the Judge. In some extenuating circumstances, the Defendant may be able to get the Judgment vacated and granted a new hearing date.

Can I appeal a Small Claims court decision if I am not satisfied with the outcome?

If you are the individual who originally filed the claim (Plaintiff), you cannot appeal the decision. If someone else filed a claim against you (Defendant) and you lose, you can appeal the Court’s decision. The entirety of the Court’s decision is reviewed on appeal. There is an entirely new trial, which means you must present your evidence, in its entirety, again. Unlike the initial hearing, you may, but do not have to, have an attorney represent you at the appeal hearing.

Document Preparation

To be certain, having an attorney with you every step of the way is the best option for most litigants. In a Small Claims case, however, Court rules prohibit attorneys from representing litigants in these actions.

Proceeding as a self-represented litigant does not lessen the high standard the Court requires of each party in a Small Claims case. This includes necessarily detailed filings, deadlines, and legal arguments.

Although we are barred from representing you at your hearing, we are not barred from discussing your case with you and crafting an effective strategy. People’s Legal Services offers a free 30-minute case evaluation with an attorney. Moreover, we can effectively and affordably assist you in preparing your Small Claims Complaint or Answer. This maximizes your ability to self-represent at your hearing, and the value of each dollar you spend towards achieving a suitable and appropriate result in your case.

Please contact us today to speak with an attorney and complete your free 30-minute case evaluation. Hablamos Español.