If you received a document with the title "Plaintiff's Claim and Order to Go to Small Claims Court" you have been sued in California small claims court. What now? In this article, we review how to prepare for your day in small claims court.
Here is an overview:
- Review the lawsuit you received.
- You don't have to file any documents to respond to the lawsuit.
- What are your defenses?
- Consider a settlement.
- Consider suing the person who sued you.
- Prepare your evidence.
- Prepare for the hearing.
Review the Lawsuit You Received
The document "Plaintiff's Claim and Order to Go to Small Claims Court" is the small claims lawsuit. At a minimum, if you were sued in California small claims, you should have received 5 pages. Make you review each page you received.
Here are some important areas to note:
- Page 1: you should make a note of when the hearing is and where the hearing is.
- Page 2: you can review who sued you and their contact information. The person who sued you is called the "plaintiff." Under #3, you can see how much you are being sued for ("the plaintiff claims the defendant owes $____). You can also see why you are being sued in small claims and how they calculated the amount you are being sued for.
- Page 4: provides you general information on your options.
- There may be additional pages attached so make sure you review each page.
You don't have to file any documents to respond to the lawsuit.
In California small claims, you are not required to file a response to the lawsuit before the hearing date. One exception is when you don't think you were sued in the right court.
You are expected to show up to the small claims hearing ready to present your side of the case.
Please note, if your hearing is taking place virtually, you may have to submit your evidence to the court and the other party before the hearing. Check with your specific court here.
What are your defenses?
The person who sued you in small claims court is responsible for proving to the judge that they should win. They will bring evidence to help them prove their small claims case.
In order to prepare for your small claims hearing, it is good to begin anticipating how the person who sued you is going to prove to the judge that they should win.
Here are some tips:
Write down a list of items you think the person who sued you will tell the judge. For each item, write down your response and evidence you can show the judge. Here are some examples:
- Security Deposits. If you think the person who sued you is going to tell the judge that they left their room extremely clean, your response may be that they didn't leave their room clean and that you had to pay $500 for professional cleaners. Evidence: Pictures of the room after they moved out and the receipt for professional cleaning fees.
- Car Accident. If you think the person who sued you is going to tell the judge that you ran a red light, your response may be that the light was green. Evidence: A witness that was with you in the car.
- Contracts. If you think the person who sued you is going to tell the judge that you didn't do what was agreed to based on the contract, your response may be that you did do exactly what the contract said. Evidence: A copy of the contract and proof that you did do what the contract said.
Research defenses based on the law. Did you do what was required of you under the law? Here are some examples:
- Security Deposits. Did you follow the rules surrounding the return of the tenant's security deposit?
- Auto Repair. Did you follow the rules around providing an estimate before conducting the repairs?
- A quick google search should pull up what you are looking for. When in doubt, consult a lawyer!
Talk to a lawyer. Don't know how to defend your lawsuit or there is too much money at stake?
- If you stand to lose $10,000 it may be a good time to invest in talking to a lawyer. While lawyers are not allowed to represent you or the person who sued you at the initial small claims hearing, you can consult a lawyer before the hearing.
- How much does a lawyer cost? It varies but you can begin to reduce your cost by preparing all your evidence beforehand so that they can quickly review your case.
We can help you prepare! Learn more.
Consider a settlement.
Settling a small claims lawsuit doesn't always mean you are settling because you think you will lose. Here are some factors when thinking of offering a settlement after you have been sued in small claims:
- How much time and money will you spend attending the hearing?
- How much do you stand to lose if the judge doesn't think you are correct?
- Is the person you sued correct?
- Do you want the public record to reflect you lost in small claims?
Many, many, many small claims lawsuits settle before the hearing date or even at the courthouse on the hearing date.
Consider suing the person who sued you.
Do you think you are owed money by the person who sued you in small claims? Consider suing them back. Both lawsuits will be handled at the same small claims hearing.
Here are the steps:
- Prepare Defendant's Claim and Order to Go to Small Claims Court (SC-120).
- File Defendant's Claim and Order to Go to Small Claims Court (SC-120).
- Serve Defendant's Claim and Order to Go to Small Claims Court (SC-120).
Prepare your evidence.
Preparing your evidence is one of the most important steps to defending yourself after you have been sued in small claims court. You don't want to risk losing in small claims because you showed up to court unprepared.
- Some examples of what counts as evidence: pictures, text messages, emails, invoices, contracts, receipts, videos, etc.
- Ask yourself, what am I being sued for and how will I prove to the judge I am right?
- While you may not have everything in writing, make sure you do bring what you have! If you don't have something in writing, a judge may base their decision on your credibility.
- You want to have your evidence organized with titles, dates, and why that piece of evidence is important. All your evidence should be geared towards showing the judge why you are correct!
- What not to include? Evidence that is not relevant to why you are being sued. Keep the judge focused on your arguments and why you should win!
- Print enough copies of all your evidence. You will need at least three copies (one for you, one for the judge, one for the other side).
Remember, People Clerk can help you with preparing your evidence!
Prepare for your hearing.
- You do not want to miss your small claims hearing. Make sure you know when and where the small claims hearing will be.
- Don't be late. The court clerk will conduct a roll call at the beginning of the hearing to check-in who is in attendance. Make sure you have mapped out where you are going to park before the hearing date.
- Virtual hearings. With COVID-19 many small claims courts are now conducting small claims hearings virtually. Make sure to call the court and confirm whether your hearing will be in person or virtual. You can find the contact information for your court here.