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How Long Does The California Small Claims Court Process Take?

Camila Lopez - California Small Claims - May 13, 2024

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    Ready to sue someone in small claims but worried about how long small claims takes in California? In this article, we explore the small claims process.

    Small Claims 101

    We have assisted thousands of clients with California small claims and have learned the following:

    The majority of cases take 2-3 months from start to finish.

    The hearings are scheduled 30-75 days after the lawsuit is filed.

    Most judges decide cases within 7-14 days after the hearing.

    Ready to sue in California small claims? Review our guide to California small claims.

    Looking to sue in a different state? Learn more about other small claims courts in our 50-state guide to small claims court.

    What types of small claims cases can be filed?

    As long as there isn't another court better suited to file the lawsuit, then the lawsuit can be filed in small claims. The most common types of small claims lawsuits in California Small Claims Court are:

    • Landlord/Tenant disputes over the security deposit.

    • Landlord/Tenant disputes over unpaid rent.

    • Roommate disputes.

    • Disputes over loans.

    • Contracts (written and verbal).

    • Auto accidents.

    • Disputes over auto repairs.

    • Disputes over remodeling or home repairs (disputes with contractors).

    • Damage caused to property.

    • Unpaid bills.

    How long do I have to File a Small Claims case?

    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. This deadline is called the statute of limitations. After the deadline has passed, you cannot win in small claims court.

    Further Reading: Common statutes of limitations for California Small Claims Court.

    How much can I sue for in California Small Claims Court?

    In California Small Claims, an individual can sue for $12,500. If you are suing on behalf of a corporation or LLC, you can sue for $6,250.

    Further Learning: How to calculate how much to sue for.

    What are the California Small Claims Court Filing Fees?

    The amount you will pay to file a small claims lawsuit in California depends on how much you are suing for. You will pay between $30 to $75 to file the lawsuit. If cannot afford to pay court fees, you can ask the court to waive the fees.  

    How to write a demand letter 4

    In addition to court filing fees, you may also spend between $40-$125 on serving your lawsuit or you can serve your lawsuit for free by asking a friend or family member to serve the lawsuit.

    If you win, you can make a request to the judge to have the person you sued to pay for court fees and serving costs.

    Preparing the Lawsuit

    You will need to prepare the small claims lawsuit and file it with the court. Review a list of small claims forms you will need.

    Once you file your case

    Once you file your case, you will get a hearing date scheduled anywhere between 30-75 days later. During this time you want to notify the person you have sued that they have been sued. This is called "serving."

    During this time, you can try and negotiate with the other party to settle your case! You may have a higher chance of reaching a settlement once the case has been filed.

    The Small Claims Court Hearing

    During the small claims court hearing, a judge may tell the parties who won and who lost. Other times, a judge chooses to review the evidence after the hearing and notify the parties later on of who won and who lost. When a judge chooses to wait until after the hearing, the judge's decision will be mailed a few weeks later.

    Further learning: Guide on how to win in California small claims court.

    Collecting your winnings after the hearing

    Once you win your California Small Claims Court case, the losing party usually pays within 30 days of when the judge's decision was mailed.

    Once you receive payment, you are required to file an Acknowledgment of Satisfaction of Judgment (Form SC-290).


    Camila Lopez

    Legal Educator at JusticeDirect. 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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