Do not wait to file your small claims court lawsuit! After an incident occurs, you only have a set period of time to file your lawsuit. Think of this as a deadline (called the statute of limitations). Once the deadline is reached, you cannot file your California Small Claims Court lawsuit.
Once you file your small claims court lawsuit, the next step is to notify the defendant that they have been sued. This is called "service of process" (also known as "service"). You must serve the defendant at least 15 days before trial if the defendant lives in the county you are suing in.