Small claims court may help you get paid

Small Claims Court May Be an Option

Small claims court can sometimes be an effective way to get paid for debts less than $5,000 for a corporation or $10,000 for an individual.   Here’s what you need to know about small claims court in California.


In California small claims court, there are no lawyers, juries or rules of evidence in California.   You pay between $30-$100 to file it.    After you file and start your small claims court case, the court will set the date for the hearing.   You then must serve notice of the hearing and a copy of your complaint on the person who owes you money (the defendant).    He or she can respond and even seek money they think you owe him or her.

On the day of the hearing, you – not a lawyer — appear before the small claims court judge and present evidence about why the defendant owes you money.  Defendant has an opportunity to respond or say why you owe  them money.   Normally, the small claims court judge does not give you an answer at the hearing but mails out their decision as to who wins.

If the plaintiff loses, they cannot appeal the decision.  If the defendant loses, they can appeal.   Even if the plaintiff wins, they normally must wait 30 days before trying to collect on the judgment.


There are unfortunately, several potential pitfalls to Small Claims Court:

INADEQUATE SERVICE.    Proper service is required for the small claims court to be able to give you a judgment or to have any control over defendant.  If you get it wrong, the court can refuse to hear your case or give the defendant a grown to attack the judgment.

INADEQUATE PREPARATION.   Even in small claims court, you need evidence to prove your case.   This is one occasion where you need to practice and prepare and, if necessary, get help.

COUNTERCLAIM.    A counterclaim is when the defendant claims you owe them money.     If you know that the defendant has a counterclaim, you should consider whether it even makes sense to pursue your claim in small claims court against them.

COLLECTIONS.   Even if you win your case against the defendant, you will have to collect that judgment.    If the defendant does not have assets, it’s problem not worth suing them in small claims court.

Although an attorney cannot appear for you in small claims court, to avoid these pitfalls, it may make sense to consult with an attorney either to help avoid these potential pitfalls.  Despite, the potential pitfalls and limits to small claims court, in many cases, this is an effective way to collect on your debts.

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