Small claims court is a special court within the Superior Court that will give you the possibility of resolving disputes quickly and save money. The Plaintiff and the Defendant are not allowed to be represented by an attorney in court. However, the parties can seek help from a professional attorney before and after the hearing. Your case will be heard either by a commissioner or a judge pro tem. A judge pro tem is an attorney that volunteers his time to hear and decide cases but both the commissioner and the judge pro tem have the same responsibilities and powers of a judge. Before you go to the hearing, make sure you are fully prepared. Bring all the evidence you need to prove your case such as photos, receipts, witnesses, etc. and make sure you stay concise, organized and do not confuse the court.
If you and the Defendant live in the same county your case will be heard within 40 days of the date you file the claim or 70 days if the person you are suing lives outside of your county.
The first question you should ask yourself is: should I sue? To answer that question you have to evaluate if you have a good case, if you will be willing to go to mediation or settle and finally if you will be able to collect if you win. Indeed, there is no point of suing someone that does not have the funds to pay you if you win. Moreover, the court will not be collecting the money or help you do so. It is up to you to identify if the person you sue will be able to pay you. If the Defendant is working or owns valuable property or investments, collecting what you are owed shouldn’t be too difficult. Also, you can sometimes receive some help from your local law enforcement agency such as the sheriff, for example.
The most typical cases of small claim courts are: auto accident, property damage, landlord/tenant disputes and the collection of personal debts. However, eviction cases are not allowed in small claim courts and must be heard by a higher court.
In California, the monetary limit to be able to go through the small claims court is $5000.00 if you are a business or a public entity and $10, 000.00 if you are an individual.
Before you decide to file a claim, you must ask the Defendant for the money owed, either orally or in writing. Once you have done that and didn’t receive an answer or the demand was rejected, you may file your claim. Keep in mind that you will have to prove the dollar amount of your damage.