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Small Claims Court

Learn more about small claims courts with FindLaw. This article offers an overview of filing complaints in small claims court. It provides helpful information and resources to help you understand the cost-effective alternative to the traditional litigation process, from understanding small claims court to learning how to appeal a court judgment.

A link to an article about your state's small claims court can be found below.

Understanding Small Claims Court

A large number of lawsuits that are brought across the nation do not involve millions or even thousands of dollars. Small claims courts were created to deal with claims that fall below an amount set by each state's laws. The small claims courts are intended to provide an inexpensive and quick way for litigants to resolve their legal disputes. It often does not involve the complexities of rules of evidence. 

Some of the types of cases you can file in small claims court are as follows:

  • Collection of owed money, debts, or loan payments
  • Breach of contract disputes
  • Damages to personal property or real property
  • Professional negligence claims
  • Personal injury claims
  • Claims involving landlord and tenant that include eviction notices, unlawful eviction, and issues related to security deposits

There is some variation in types permitted between the states. 

How To File a Lawsuit in Small Claims Court

The specific procedure for filing a lawsuit in small claims court will depend on the laws of your county or state. Your state court's websites often provide helpful information on how to file a case in small claims courts.

Some courts even offer small claims advisors who can answer simple procedural questions and guide you through the system without any cost. It is essential to know that some legal procedures, such as discovery and jury trial, are absent in a small claims case. 

There is still a statute of limitations for small claims. The statute of limitations means you only have a certain period after the incident to file your claim. Your state law often determines this window period.

Although the small claims court process procedure depends on the jurisdiction, the case follows a general method.

  1. The plaintiff files a claim, often on a complaint form provided by the small claims court clerk. The plaintiff also pays a filing fee. Note that when you are filing your claim, you should use the correct name and address of the opposing party you are suing.
  2. After you file your complaint, the court clerk will provide you with a copy of the statement of claim and notice form. The notice form will contain information about the court date and time. The court clerk will assign you a docket or reference number. This number serves as an identification assigned to your case. It is helpful to note it, particularly when calling the small claims court clerk.
  3. Once you file your claim, the defendant should be personally served with a copy of the complaint. The service of the complaint to the defendant may also vary depending on state laws.
  4. Once the defendant receives a copy of the complaint, they have a certain number of days to answer it. If the defendant fails to answer the complaint, the court may enter a default judgment against the defendant. This means that the defendant will be liable for the claim.

Do You Need a Lawyer in Small Claims Cases?

No. You do not need a lawyer in small claims court cases. Some states do not even allow you to have a lawyer. For instance, you should appear on your own in small claims court in CaliforniaNebraska, and Idaho

Some states allow you to be represented by a lawyer, such as ColoradoDelaware, and Florida. Hiring a lawyer is often not cost-efficient in small claims cases. The attorney's fees could be considerable compared to the modest amount of money involved in the case.

Can You Appeal the Court's Decision in Small Claims Cases?

Yes. You can generally appeal the court's decisions in small claims cases. The following are the general points that you should keep in mind when appealing small claims court order:

  • Period to Appeal: Often, the court imposes a strict time frame on when you should file an appeal. It ranges from 10 to 30 days after the court judgment.
  • Grounds for Appeal: The grounds for appeal are usually grounded on claims that the court made a legal error, improper consideration of evidence, or abuse of discretion. For example, the losing party often appeals when disagreeing with the money judgment.
  • Appeal Process: You must file your appeal with the district court, and the judge will review your case. The judge will examine the evidence presented and determine if there were legal errors that give you grounds to appeal. The judge can then confirm, set aside, or modify the small claims order. The district court could also order a new trial.

Note that filing an appeal does not qualify you to do your court hearing again. You cannot introduce new evidence in the appeal. The district court judge will only look at the evidence that you previously submitted. 

Remember that rules may vary depending on each state, so you should also check your state laws about small claims.

Hiring an Attorney

Some states and counties do not allow plaintiffs or defendants to be represented by an attorney in a small claims court. For this reason, it's essential to check your local court rules before hiring an attorney. Even if your local court requires that you represent yourself, you can still consult with a litigation and appeals lawyer.

Speaking with a litigation and appeals lawyer is helpful if you have doubts or questions about your case. They can give you legal advice tailored to your case. Their experience with a wide range of legal services will benefit you.

Learn More About Small Claims Court

  • How To File a Small Claims Lawsuit: Overview and practical advice on gathering the proper materials and filing a case in small claims court. It includes information on claim limits, statutes of limitation, and self-representation.
  • Do I Need a Lawyer for Small Claims Court?: Small claims courts often handle these cases quickly and affordably. Most states do not require parties to have legal representation to file the claim. This article covers the process of filing small claims and the advantages and disadvantages of self-representation.
  • What Can I Sue for in Small Claims Court?: Small claims courts have limited jurisdiction, meaning they can only hear specific cases. Most small claims courts can only hear civil cases involving small amounts of money, often around $10,000 or less.
  • Settling Small Business Claims in Small Claims Court: This article discusses how small businesses can settle customer disputes through small claims courts. It includes general guidelines on claim amount limits, statutes of limitation, and where to file your claim.

Small Claims Court Articles

Learn About Small Claims Court

Small Claims Court Articles

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