A small claims court is a legal institution that helps resolves small claims quickly and inexpensively. Rules are simpler, and the hearings are informal for small claims, unlike civil claims, where court rules are more complex and formal rules of evidence apply.
Few states do not allow attorneys to represent their clients inside these special courts. The person filing the claim is the plaintiff, and the one against whom the claim is brought is the defendant. In these courts, you don’t have to be a United States citizen to file or defend a claim.
There are other dispute-resolving methods, including mediation, and some counties can even help resolve a dispute through their consumer affairs offices. It is best to explore your options before you decide to approach a small claims court.
Generally, small claims court resolves claims that are less than $10,000 in value, but corporations, government entities, and other legal entities cannot file more than $5,000 in value cases.
In a calendar year, an individual or a legal entity in a state cannot file more than two claims in small claims court worth more than $2,500.
For example, if you filed a claim for $3,000 on April 2021 and another small claim for $4,000 in May 2021, you may not be able to file any more claims ($2,500 or more in value) until March 2022.
However, you can file below $2,500 claims as often as you want. These limitations do not apply to public entities such as school districts, community college districts, and others, and they can bring more than two claims over $2,500 in a calendar year.
The following are some examples of disputes resolved in small claims court:
To file suit in the small claims court, you must fill out a Statement of Claim and Notice form, which you can take from the small claims clerk in your district.
The defendant must provide an answer to the notice or risk a default judgment against themselves.
The filing fees depend on the value of your small claims case.
Below is the breakdown of filing fees according to the value of the claims:
$1,500 or less: $30
More than $1,500 but less than or equal to $5,000: $50
More than $5000: $75
More than 12 claims in a calendar year: $100 for subsequent claims.
Individuals who file more than 12 claims in a calendar year may only recover the normal court costs rather than the $100 they paid if they win the case.
For example, if a multiple-filer files a $1,300 small claims case in small claims court and wins, they will receive the claim and $30 filing fees (fees for cases worth $1,500 or less) and not the $100 they paid.
Small claims court can only award monetary judgment, meaning you cannot ask the court to order the defendant to return your vehicle or lawnmower, and so on.
Once a small claims court gives its verdict on the case, the sheriff’s department has the authority to enforce it, and they may or may not need to get additional court orders for enforcement.
Most small claims cases are often heard within 30 to 40 days of filing a claim in small claims court, but they can also be scheduled within 20 to 70 days. Most hearings are often done during the weekdays; however, some small claims courts are open on Saturdays too.
If the plaintiff does not show up, but the defendant appears, the judge might dismiss the case, and the plaintiff may not be able to refile the same case. If the plaintiff shows up and the defendant does not, the court may enter a default judgment against the defendant.
The plaintiff must send the defendant a copy of their claim and file an SC-104 Proof of Service form with the court to let them know that the defendant was served.
In cases where the plaintiff approaches a sheriff, the sheriff may be able to file the necessary form with the court.
When a court decides the case, the plaintiff and the defendant will receive a copy of the judgment, and the plaintiff has the right to collect the judgment from the defendant.
Small claims court will not help collect the money owed, and if the defendant fails to uphold the court’s verdict, the plaintiff may ask the sheriff to collect the judgment on their behalf from the other party.
You may appeal the case if you’re unhappy with the judgment.
The process includes the following:
If the magistrate or the district associate judge decided on the original case, the district court judge would decide the appeal. However, if you’re not happy with the district court judge’s decision, you may be able to ask the Supreme Court to review the case.
The defendant may settle the case with the plaintiff and notify the court of the settlement. A defendant can also counterclaim by filing their own claim against the plaintiff with the clerk two days before the hearing, and the plaintiff does not need to answer the defendant’s claim.
If you’re injured in an accident and unsure which court you must file a claim, contact us at (833) LETS-SUE for a free consultation on your case.