Clients hire their attorneys to help them with their legal problems. Sometimes, however, these legal problems may involve monetary damages with minimal amounts. Considering the high cost of litigation, it is sometimes not cost effective to have an attorney represent you in a legal dispute. Thus, there are small claims court systems where legal disputes can be resolved by a judge more quickly and less expensively than the regular court system.
Different states have different small claims court systems. Our readers who reside in a state other than California should do their own research with their local courts. In California, however, who can avail of the remedies available in small claims court and what cases can be litigated?
Any person 18 years or older and who is mentally competent can sue in small claims court. An individual may sue for no more than $7,500 in a claim. Individuals using the small claims court need to be aware that if, for example, they were involved in a car accident suffering damages of $10,000, suing in small claims court limits their recovery to only $7,500 and the balance of $2,500 is waived. Also, individuals can only file 2 claims in a calendar year if the claims exceed more than $2,500. For claims below $2,500 each, individuals can file as many as they want.
In small claims court, you cannot be represented by an attorney during the hearing. Thus, it will not be as expensive to have cases litigated in small claims court as both parties will have to represent themselves and there will be fewer formalities.
The most common cases that you can take to small claims court are: car accidents, property damage, landlord/tenant rent deposit disputes, and collection of money owed. Depending on the amount of your claim, and the number of claims you’ve previously filed, court filing fees range from $30 to $100. After a case is filed, a hearing will be set by the court usually within 1 to 2 months.
During the hearing date, some counties may have a dispute resolution program where parties are brought together to try to resolve their dispute amicably before it is heard by a judge. If the dispute is not resolved amicably, the case will proceed to a hearing before the judge who will listen to both sides. Thus, should be ready to present their side of the story with their witnesses, photos, receipts, contracts, etc. The judge may then and there make a decision or may mail a decision to the parties.
Once a decision is made, can you appeal the judge’s decision? You cannot appeal if you were the one who filed the claim. However, if someone else filed the claim against you and you lose, then you can appeal. If you are allowed to appeal, you have 30 days to file a “notice of appeal” costing $75. A new hearing will then be set and you will have to bring your evidence and tell your side of the story again. This time a lawyer can represent you. It may or may not be worth it to pursue the matter depending on the amount disputed and the cost associated with pursuing the dispute.
(DISCLAIMER: material presented above is intended for informational purposes only. It is not intended as professional advice and should not be construed as such. Rey Tancinco is a partner at Tancinco Law Offices, a professional corporation with offices in San Francisco, Vallejo, and Manila. The law office website is at: www.tancinco.com. Rey Tancinco can be contacted at (800) 999-9096 or (415) 397-0808 or via email at: firstname.lastname@example.org