04 Aug 2020

Small Claims Court California

What is the maximum amount I can sue for in California?

The California small claims court limit is $7,500 for an individual and $5000 for a corporation. This means that the maximum you can sue for in Calfornia are these limits and if your dispute exceeds these amounts you cannot sue in small claims or will need to lower your claim or file in a higher court.

*Special Notes: A plaintiff may not file a claim over $2500 more than twice a year and the plaintiff must be an individual (limit local public entity or for businesses is $5000)

What is the California small claims court statute of limitations?

The California small claims court statute of limitations depends on each claim. If you have a written contract you have 4 years to make a claim. If your claim involves property damage you have 3 years, and if the claim is oral or dealing with personal injury the statute of limitations in California is 2 years.

Where do I file my small claims case?

You need to file your small claims complaint where the defendant resides or in contract disputes, in the locale where the contract was signed. The appropriate courthouse may NOT be where you live.

How do I know if I should sue in California small claims court?

The first thing you need to ask yourself is “do I have case?” Before you file a claim you should consider the following:

  1. Is the amount of the claim worth your time to pursue?
  2. Does the person you have a claim against having any possible claim against you?
  3. Does the person you have a claim against have the ability to pay if you win?
  4. Do you feel you have the ability to prosecute the claim without the help of an attorney?
  5. Can your evidence convince a judge that you are in the right? In other words, are you making it easy for them, is it a clear cut case? Can you find any state statute, law, or code violation to validate your case? If so, point this out!

What kind of cases can I sue for in California small claims court?

These types of cases are generally heard in Small Claims courts:

  • Unpaid debts
  • Breach of a verbal or written contract
  • Back rent
  • Return of security deposit
  • Broken or damaged property
  • A doctor or hospital bills
  • Other issues valued at $5000 or less (check your state below as this varies state to state)

Can I sue on behalf of someone else?

In most states an individual who represents a party to a small claims court action must complete and sign an “Authorization to Appear on Behalf of Party”- a form typically provided by the clerk of the small claims court or often found on their website. The representative must state that he/she is authorized to represent the party, and he/she must describe the basis for authorization (usually a letter from the represented party will suffice.)

What is the demand letter?

Before you file a small claims complaint with the court you are required to send a demand letter to the defendant. The defendant is the person you believe owes you money. A demand letter simply spells out that the defendant owes you money and you are requesting they pay the outstanding debt to you within 30 days. You can also fulfill the demand requirement by requesting via phone, email, or in person. By fulfilling this requirement in writing you are also able to show this request was made when compiling your evidence for court.

What do I do once I file a complaint?

Once you file a complaint you need to wait for the defendant to be served and for the paperwork to be filed with the courts. The time for you to get a court date can vary from court to court as it depends on how backed up they are. Typically this can be a 2-month process.

What happens if the defendant does not show?

can If the defendant does not show up the court can decide the case without them there. It is also possible for the other side to lose the case by default and a default judgment can be issued against them.

What happens if I win?

If you win you are entitled to the amount granted by the judge. The defendant does have 30 days to file an appeal. If there is no appeal, the losing party may voluntarily pay. It may become necessary to get the court to award judgment, garnish wages, or other necessary means.

What happens if I lose?

If you lose you may have to pay the other sides costs and expenses (not including lawyers fees.)

How long does it take to learn if I win or lose?

The decision by the judge or arbitrator can vary from court to court. In some instances, you may get your decision by the end of the hearing. Often you will get your decision sent to you by mail.

How do I present evidence in a small claims case?

Presenting evidence is very important in proving your case to the judge or arbitrator. You want to make your case as simple as possible and clear that you are in the right. Speaking as little as possible is generally preferred. Make sure you have you any documents, contracts, emails, pictures and any other necessary evidence to back up your case.

Is an attorney allowed in small claims court?

No attorney is not allowed in small claims court with you. The only was an attorney is allowed is if you are an attorney and you are representing yourself.

Simple things the Plaintiff needs to know!

  1. You are the Plaintiff, the person you are suing is the defendant!
  2. Keep copies of all your forms for court.
  3. Make sure you have all the dates of when the incident occurred. If you don’t have the date, give a period of time.
  4. How did you calculate what you believe is owed to you? Be specific!
  5. Make sure you send a demand letter first. Click here if you need help with this!
  6. You must file in the right jurisdiction! This is either where the defendant lives or does business, the plaintiff’s property was damaged or where you were injured, or where the contract (written or spoken) was made, signed, performed, or broken by the defendant or where the defendant lived or did business when the defendant made the contract.

Simple things the Defendant needs to know!

  1. You don’t need to file any papers for court unless the jurisdiction is incorrect. If you think the court is wrong you can send a letter to the court before the trial date asking the court to dismiss the claim.
  2. If you lose the case you can appeal it for a fee.
  3. You CAN settle the case before the trial. For information on settling your case click here.
  4. Try and win your case! Bring any information such as witnesses, receipts, and any evidence to prove your case.
  5. You can sue the person suing you but look closely at the filing deadlines!
  6. Be careful of defaulting! If you don’t settle and do not go to trial the judge may just award the plaintiff what they are requesting plus court costs. If this happens the plaintiff can legally take your money, wages, and property to pay the judgment!


What if I need more time?

You can change the trial date if:

  1. You cannot go to court on the scheduled date (you will have to pay a fee to postpone the trial) or
  2. You did not get served at least 15 days before trial (or 20 days if you live outside the country) or
  3. You need more time to get an interpreter. One postponement is allowed, and you will not have to pay a fee to delay the trial.