Surviving Small Claims Court In California

California small claims courts are designed to resolve disputes quickly and inexpensively.  Without attorneys involved, the cost of pursuing a claim becomes more manageable. The following will help you effectively use the small claims court system.

When can you file a claim? If you have a “small claim” ($5,000 for companies and $10,000 for individuals) you may use small claims court.  If your claim is more than the maximum allowed, you can sue in higher court for the full amount, or you can sue in small claims court and give up your right to recover anything in excess of the maximum.  Because lawyers are usually used in higher courts, consider what your legal fees will be if you choose that route.  You may be financially better off in small claims court.

The filing and serving procedure: You must complete and sign a pre-printed claim form supplied by the court and pay a small filing fee.  The court will assign a date and time for the trial.  Once you file the claim, it is necessary to inform the defendant that he is being sued.  You cannot serve the defendant yourself.  You can hire a process server or the court will serve the complaint for you by certified mail for a small additional fee.

Rules about the defendant: You must sue the defendant by his exact legal name.  Failure to do so may make it impossible to collect your judgment.

The trial: The courts are very crowded and a number of cases will be scheduled to be heard at the same time.  You will usually be allowed 15 minutes or less to present your case.

Bring all of your witnesses to the trial.  Signed declarations may not be allowed because the defendant will not have an opportunity to cross-examine the witness.

Remember, it’s up to you to make sure the judge understands your case.

  1. Prepare an outline of your presentation and practice before going to court.
  2. Write down the dates and events in chronological order.
  3. Bring the original and two copies of all your evidence.
  4. Listen to what the defendant says in response.  Take notes, since you’ll get an opportunity to respond when he is through.
  5. Make sure you can justify the amount you’re claiming is owed.  Show the judge how the numbers add up.

Judgment and appeal: If you’re the plaintiff and you lose the case, you’re not allowed to appeal.  If the defendant loses the case, however, he may appeal to a higher court, where the case will be heard all over again, possibly with lawyers involved.

While we are not allowed to represent you in small claims court, we can certainly meet with you to review your case and give you advice on how best to present your evidence.  We can also provide you with legal arguments to make your case more persuasive.  If you need our assistance with your small claims court case, call us at (650) 422-3313.

One Response to “Surviving Small Claims Court In California”

  1. Lawyers are expensive, but there are lots of ways to keep costs down.

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