“I’m so mad I could sue!” How often have you felt this way when someone dented your car and refused to pay for the repairs, a store won’t fix or replace an item that does not work, or your former landlord will not return your security deposit. These are the issues that small claims court was designed to address. Particularly if you have already tried mediation and/or sent a demand letter, your claim still falls within the statute of limitations, and you think that suing is worth your time and expense (including whether or not the person you sue can actually pay the damages), then you may want to consider moving forward with a lawsuit in small claims court.
Small claims court is designed to be simple, quick, and to cost less that a regular civil lawsuit. It is also designed so that the majority of people can file, prepare and present their own cases in court without needing to retain the services of a lawyer. The California state judiciary has simplified court documents, developed websites and self help centers to provide legal information and guidance in an attempt to assist people who are representing themselves.
The first step in bringing a suit is to figure out what court you should go to depending on the county where the incident occurred. The second step is to fill out the SC100 Plaintiffs Claim and Order to Go to Small Claims Court. If you need more space to describe your claim and what happened, or you need witness statements, you can use a Declaration or form MC 030. Make sure you check if there are any more local forms for your court that must be filled out and then file your forms with the clerk and get your court date. After you file your forms, you must serve your papers to the individual business you are suing. Make sure you follow the specific guideline on serving your lawsuit and check with your small claims legal advisor if you should need assistance. Once you have done this, you are ready to go to court!
The “small” in small claims court refers to the limitations on the damages that can be claimed – an individual or sole proprietor can sue for up to $10,000, while a corporation or business can only ask up to $5,000. So before you get carried away imagining yourself as David defeating the evil Goliath, just be sure that it is really worth your time. Bringing a small claims case for $50 does not make a lot of sense, particularly because you can expect to pay between $30-100 of filing fees depending on the size of your claim. On the other hand, imagine the glory of getting some due process in this world!
For step by step instructions on suing in small claim courts, or on what to do when you yourself have been sued, see ‘Small Claims‘ on the Self-Help tab of the website for the California Courts. If you are ready to proceed, get started filling out your SC100 Plaintiffs Claim and Order to Go to Small Claims Court with PDFfiller now, and may justice be served.