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How Long Does The Small Claims Court Process Take?

Camila Lopez - How To - August 26, 2022

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Most small claims cases take 2-3 months from start to finish. The typical small claims court case takes three steps:

  1. File the Lawsuit,

  2. Serve the lawsuit,

  3. Attend the Hearing.

The hearing will be scheduled 30-75 days after the lawsuit is filed.

In this article, learn about:

  • Small Claims Court Limits

  • How much is going to small claims costs?

  • Common types of small claims lawsuits

  • What to expect during a small claims hearing.

  • Fun fact, lawyers are not allowed at the initial small claims hearing! This is to even the playing field so that each party has an equal chance of obtaining justice.

Small Claims Court in General

In California, small claims courts were set up as a quick and efficient forum to resolve disputes.

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. 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.

  • Read Common statutes of limitations for California Small Claims Court.

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

This is also known as the "small claims court limits." In California Small Claims you can sue for the following maximum amounts:

How to write a demand letter 3

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

What are other costs for Small Claims Court?

In most small claims cases, you can expect to pay:

If you win, you can request that the losing party pay for your court fees and serving costs.

Once you file your case

Once you file your case, you will get a hearing date scheduled anywhere between 20-70 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.

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. This is called a judgment.

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

Chief Legal Architect & Co-Founder @ People Clerk. Camila is an attorney, consumer advocate, and certified mediator. Her passion is breaking down complicated legal processes so that people without an attorney can get justice.

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