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California Small Claims Court 101

Camila Lopez - California Small Claims - May 14, 2024

People Clerk helps you with your California small claims lawsuit.

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    Every once in a while we go through common questions people have about California small claims court on Reddit, Quora, and Facebook to help answer some of the most common questions. Don't forget to review our complete guide to California small claims court.

    Need help with your small claims lawsuit? We are here to assist you with the California small claims process. Just give us 20 minutes of your time. Get Started.

    What qualifies as a small claim?

    So long as there isn't another court better suited to hear the case, then the lawsuit can be filed in small claims as long as you are suing for $12,500 or less (if you are suing on behalf of a corporation or LLC, the limit is $6,250).

    The most common types of small claims cases are:

    How much does it cost to go to small claims court in California?

    • Cost to file the lawsuit $30- $75 ($0 if you receive California government benefits like Medi-cal, SSI, food stamps)

    • Cost to serve the person or business you sue is between $0- $75 (free if you receive California government benefits like Medi-cal, SSI, food stamps)

    How do I take someone to small claims court in California?

    1. Prepare your lawsuit.

    2. File your lawsuit.

    3. Once the lawsuit is filed, notify the person you sued that they have been sued ("serving").

    4. Prepare for the hearing.

    5. Attend the hearing.

    How much money can you sue for in small claims court in California?

    $12,500 or less if you are an individual (if you are suing on behalf of a corporation or LLC, the limit is $6,250).

    How long to file a small claims suit in California?

    The California legislature sets deadlines (called the statute of limitations) for when a lawsuit can be filed. There is a different statute of limitations period for each type of case. A lawsuit cannot be filed after the statute of limitations has been reached. Learn about common statutes of limitations periods for California Small Claims Court.

    Is it worth going to small claims court for $1,000?

    Here are some factors and questions to consider when determining if taking someone to small claims is worth it:

    • Cost to file $0- $75.

    • Cost to serve the lawsuit $0- $75

    • Your time. At People Clerk, we have run surveys of how long it takes someone to navigate small claims with some estimates coming in at to 20 to 30 hours and multiple trips to the courthouse. With People Clerk, most clients spend less than an hour before the hearing as we take care of the most time-consuming tasks. Our goal is that you only have to go to the courthouse once for the hearing.  

    • Likelihood of settlement before the hearing. Many times, small claims lawsuits settle before the hearing, especially when suing a business.

    • Likelihood you are correct. Do you feel you are right? Sometimes, it is very obvious, like when someone hits your car. How strong do you feel you case is?

    • Justice. Is the person you would like to sue doing the same to others? The judge's decision is public information. This may help others determine whether to do business with that person.

    • Collections. If you win, what is the likelihood of that the person who lost will pay you? After someone loses in small claims, they have 30 days to pay you. The court's decision ("the judgment") can affect their credit if they don't pay you. If you are suing someone who is hard to find it may be hard to enforce the judgment. You can read about some collection options here.

    Even if you decide that it isn't worth it to sue for $1,000, at a minimum, consider sending a demand letter.

    What happens if someone doesn't show up to small claims court?

    As long as the person you sued has been properly notified that they have been sued ("served"), the judge will still decide your case with or without them.

    If you don't attend the hearing, the court will very likely close your case and you will need to file a new case if you would like to continue (keep in mind any deadlines to refile your case).

    How hard is it to take someone to small claims court?

    Here are some factors that may make it easier or harder to take someone to small claims court:

    • Do you know where the person you are suing lives or works? This is important as you need to notify them that they have been sued ("serving").

    • How sure are you that you will win? If you know you are right, then it is easier for you.

    • How much effort do you want to put in? Are you going to want to go to court to file any lawsuit documents or are you planning on hiring someone to help you? Do you want to prepare your evidence on your own or would you like to use a software to help you organize your evidence? People Clerk can help you file, serve, and prepare for your hearing to help you save time.

    Can I file a small claims case online in California?

    Yes, in some California counties, you can file your small claims lawsuit online. However, many California counties still require you to file the paperwork in person or by mail.

    Learn more about filing a small claims lawsuit online.

    What evidence is needed in small claims court?

    In general, here is a checklist:

    • Any communications between you and the person you sued relating to the lawsuit. For example, emails, text messages, letters, etc.

    • Pictures, Videos, Screenshots. Do you have pictures, videos, or screenshots relating to the lawsuit?

    • Any other relevant evidence. Any evidence that proves why you should win your lawsuit. For example, contracts, police reports, and estimates to fix the damages.

    Who pays the costs in a small claims court?

    You can ask the court to have the defendant (the person you sued) reimburse you for "reasonable costs." Normally, this means filing costs and serving costs.

    Are small claims considered a lawsuit?

    Yes, a small claims case is considered a lawsuit.

    Is it worth it to sue someone with no money?

    In general, it is hard to collect from someone that doesn't have money. If you win in small claims, the judgment (the amount of money you win) is good for up to 10 years (and renewable after that). If the person you sue does not have money now, will they have money later? Remember that the person you sue can ask the court to pay you back using a payment plan.

    What happens if you sue someone and lose?

    If you sue someone and lose, your lawsuit is closed after you lose. You don't get reimbursed for your court fees and serving costs if you lose.

    Need help with your small claims lawsuit? We are here to assist you with the California small claims process. Just give us 20 minutes of your time. Get Started.


    Camila Lopez

    Legal Educator @ People Clerk. Camila holds a law degree and is a certified mediator. Her passion is breaking down complicated legal processes so that people without an attorney can get justice.

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