Can I file in Small Claims Court?

Small Claims Court is a special court where parties can resolve disputes cheaply and quickly and where the rules and procedures are simplified compared to traditional courts.

A lawyer cannot represent a party in a Small Claims matter so parties appear in person and argue their case themselves.

In determining whether you can file in the Small Claims Court, the first question to ask yourself is what monetary amount are you seeking to recover. Individuals and sole proprietor businesses can file 2 cases per year for up to $10,000 and all other businesses or corporations can file 2 cases per year for up to $5,000.

I’ve heard that there are time limits for filing my claim. Is this correct?

Yes, these are known as statute of limitations and are laws that set out the maximum time after an event within which legal proceedings may be commenced.

Some of the most common causes of action and their corresponding time limits are set out below:

Fraud 3 years from the date you discover you were defrauded
Written Contract 4 years from the date the contract was broken
Oral Contract 2 years from the date the contract was broken
Property Damage 3 years from the date the damage happened
Personal Injury 2 years from the date of injury or from the date you discovered you were injured.

So my case is below the above limits and within the required timeframe, how do I start my case?

The first step is to complete and file form SC-100 Plaintiff’s Claim form and file this with the Court.

You will then need to ‘serve’ the Defendant with a copy of the Claim. There are three main ways a person can serve process on the Defendant in Small Claims Court:

  • Personal Service

Personal service of process occurs when a copy of the summons and complaint are delivered personally upon the Defendant.

  • Certified Mail

A Defendant can be served by certified mail in California.  This task must be performed by the clerk of the court. The clerk of the court where the claim was filed will send a copy of the claim by certified mail. Note, if the named defendant does not sign the receipt for certified mail, the service of process will be deemed invalid.

  • Substituted Service

There are certain situations in which the defendant cannot be personally served with the copy of the claim.  When this occurs, the individual rendering service of process can do the following: Deliver the claim to someone over the age of 18 at the defendant’s residence, place of business, or usual place of mailing.

There are strict timeframes in which service must be effected. Contact your local court for more information on this.

Once you have served the Defendant, you must file Proof of Service (form SC-104)with the Court as evidence that the Defendant has been served with the court papers. 

The proof of service must be filed 5 days prior to the court hearing. 

My day in court has arrived, what do I need to bring with me?

Make sure you come to Court prepared and with evidence that proves the basis of your claim. You should try to only bring relevant information so as to keep things as clear as possible for the judge.

The evidence to bring will vary depending upon the nature of your case but examples include:

  • the contract you allege that has been breached;
  • any correspondence that has passed between the parties;
  • receipts or bank statements;
  • photographs or videos;
  • quotes; and
  • witnesses may appear in person.

Who can file in Small Claims Court?

You do not need to be a US citizen to file a claim. Therefore, foreigners may also file a claim against a California resident/business.

The Small Claims Court has been designed to efficiently deal with matters involving small monetary amounts and allows parties to deal with these without hiring a lawyer.

Should your claim be greater than the amounts discussed above, you can file in a higher court and you may avail yourself of representation by a lawyer.

If you have any questions on the above, contact Zed Legal today at hello@zed.legal

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