Suing in California Small Claims Court : Step-by-Step Process
Approximately any disagreement can be taken to small claims court, on condition that the amount of money requested falls within the maximum allowed by California law.
In California small claims court is a well-used legal tool. With almost 4,000 small claims filed every day in the Los Angeles area alone.
Planned with the average citizen in mind, the court allows everyday people resolve their disputes quickly, easily and best of all, economically.
The most common types of small claims suites are :
- Property Damage
- Creach of contract and business disputes.
- Defective products or unsatisfactory service
- Landlord-tenant dispute,froud, accidents and personal injury and unpaid debts.
If you have one of these problems, you’re having a hard time resolving,small claims court might be your accurate direction.
Understanding Small Claims Court in California :
Small claims court handles cases that involves dispute over money or property, usually below a set financial limit.
In California, an individual can collect up to $7,5000 in small claims court, while corporations and limited liability companies are still limited to $5,000.
Keep in mind that the hiring cost of an attorney and spending time in civil court can quickly overreach such limits.
However, filing a small claims case can provide a more accessible solution for resolving conflict at far lower cost.
The process is simple. In a separate division of county the civil court small claims cases are heard . Both the plaintiff and the defendant present their case to a court-appointed official or judge. The judge in turn consider the evidence and makes a decision.
Attorneys in many states, including California are prohibited from these court proceedings.
Statues of Limitation
In many states, the time limit on filing, otherwise known as the statue of limitations, will depend on the type of claims.
Such as in California, you have four years to make a claim on a written contract, and three years to file for property damage.
The statute of limitations on oral contracts and personal injury is little shorter. It you don’t sue within two years, you can’t file it.
Steps to File a Small Claim in California
First of all,put everything in writing. You should include the where, the what, the who, the why and the when of your case and be prepared to go to court.
Step-1 : Filing the Paperwork
Go to your country clerk’s office and inform them that,you’d like to file a small claim.
The clerk’s office will provide you paperwork which you will fill out with basic information for your case such as : your name (the plaintiff), the name of the person or business you are suing (the defendant) and the amount you are asking for.
Be sure that you have the correct name and address of the defendant. Your case may be dismissed if any contact information you provided is incorrect. You must keep copies of your paperwork for your records.
Next you will need to pay court fees. Fees for filing a small claim vary by country in California, but it is typically around $80.
Step 2 : Serving the Papers
You need to notify the defendant that they are being sued, after you have filled your claim with the court.This is called service of process.
There are rules which governs who can serve the defendant. Your options are certified mail, using the sheriff,or hiring a private process server.
The court starts processing your claim after your claim is filed and served on the defendant. The court will set a pre-trial hearing or trial date only after your opponent is successfully served.
Step 3 : Going to Court
Most of the courts require that both parties attend a pre-trial hearing. At the pre-trial hearing to prove your case you can only bring documents, not witnesses.
At a pre-trial hearing, Instead of going to trial, you and your opponent can choose to have your case heard by a mediator
If you go to trial, only at this point can you call witnesses.
Here both you and your opponent will have a chance to speak before the judge or court -appointed official.
But, calling witnesses requires additional service fees and serving them with a court order well in advance.
Step-4 : The Final Judgment
After both sides have presented their arguments, the judge enters a final judgment.
The plaintiff typically has to prove that he or she is granted to the amount of money or property requested.
The defendant can appeal the judgement if he or she chooses. The appeal must be tried in a more formal manner that strictly follows all the rules of evidence and procedure, unlike the small claims suit. You need a lawyer to represent you in an appeal.
Step -5 : Collecting Your Judgement
The court will enter a judgment starting how much the losing party has to pay. While many people do not realise it, the court simply makes the judgment, it doesn’t collect payment for you.
Preferably, the judgment debtor(person who owes money) will pay immediately.
You have additional legal tools available, if your opponent refuses to pay.
Wage garnishment allows you to collect a portion of the debtor’s paycheck, and property liens prevent debtors from selling their property without paying you.
In recent years the court judgments have become increasingly easy to collect. But few people with legitimate grievances actually pursue remedies through the courts.
In small claims court there are no attorneys,no jury.
There are very specific court documents and that’s where many people hesitate to use the system to their advantage.
Landlord/tenant rent deposit disputes, property damage, car accidents and recovery money owed are the most common reasons people file small claims suits. Except from a few restrictions, almost any dispute can be taken to small claims court, but the amount of money requested falls within the maximum allowed by the state law.