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After spending months planning the perfect wedding, Now you are in the situation of dealing with a disappointing wedding photographer. What can you do about it? You have several options including suing in California Small Claims Court.
In this article, learn about:
Before suing in California Small Claims Court.
How to file a small claims lawsuit against a wedding photographer.
What to expect during a small claims hearing.
Small claims cost limits.
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.
Reach out to the Wedding Photographer
The first thing to do when a problem arises is to communicate with the photographer or their employer. You want to make sure they understand what you believe they did incorrectly. Most of the time, they will agree to give you a full or partial refund. If this doesn't work, then it is time to escalate the problem.
Save All Evidence
You want to make sure to save all evidence related to your relationship with the wedding photographer. For example, you want to make sure to save any contracts, receipts, invoices, and written conversations you had with the photographer.
Send a Demand Letter
A demand letter is a letter that outlines a set of requests. For example, you could request a refund and explain why you are requesting a refund.
If you eventually decide to sue in California small claims court, you are required to first request your money or property back before you can file the lawsuit. While you can request your money or property back orally, it is recommended you do so in writing in the form of a demand letter.
What to include in the demand letter?
Unsure of what to include in your demand letter addressed to the photographer? Here are a few suggestions:
How much money you are owed.
Why you are owed money.
Your contact information.
Where to send payment.
Give them a few days to respond (usually about 7 to 14 days).
State that if they don't respond, you intend to sue.
Small Claims Court
If the wedding photographer ignored your demand letter, what next? You can sue your wedding photographer in a small claims court. But first, some background on small claims court in California to determine if it is right for you.
Types of Cases that Can be Filed in Small Claims
So long as there isn't another court better suited to hear the case, then the lawsuit can be filed in small claims. Common lawsuits in small claims court against wedding photographers include breach of contract, misrepresentation, and misappropriation.
Small Claims Court Limits
This is also known as the "small claims court limits." In California Small Claims you can sue for the following maximum amounts:
You can still sue for the maximum amount allowed, but you will need to waive any additional amount over the limit.
Who to Sue in Small Claims Court
If the wedding photographer is an employee of a wedding planning company, you want to also include the company as a defendant.
Starting the Small Claims Court Lawsuit Against the Wedding Photographer
Step 1: Fill out "Plaintiff's Claim and Order to Go to Small Claims Court" (Form SC-100)
This form starts the California Small Claims Court lawsuit process.
It is also known as the "complaint" or "claim."
This is the first document you need to file if you are suing someone. Download here.
The form will ask you who the agent for service of process is. If the wedding photographer is incorporated as a Corporation or LLC, you can search for the Agent for Service of Process on the California Secretary of State's Website.
Step 2: File "Plaintiff's Claim and Order to Go to Small Claims Court"
Each California Small Claims Court has a different procedure for filing. You have to check with your local small claims court whether they allow filing in-person, by mail, online, or by fax. Or we can file your case for you!
Step 3: Serve the Wedding Photographer
Once you file your California small claims court lawsuit, the next step is to notify the wedding photographer that they have been sued. This is called "service of process" (also known as "service"). You must serve the photographer at least 15-20 days before the small claims court hearing. There are several ways you can serve the photographer including by having a friend serve, hiring a process server, hiring the sheriff, or through the court clerk. We can help you with serving the small claims lawsuit.
The Small Claims Court Hearing
Once you file your case, you will get a hearing date scheduled anywhere between 30-70 days later. During this time, the wedding photographer may call you to try and settle the case.
To prepare for your small claims court hearing:
Research the law. If you are unsure about you the laws involving your lawsuit (aka why you should win your lawsuit), consult an attorney, or conduct your own research about the law (a quick Google search goes a long way).
Prepare your evidence. Invoices, contracts, receipts, etc. 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 should win.
Prepare what to say. During the hearing, the judge will ask you why you are suing. If you are being sued, you will be asked why you don't owe the other party money.
Get your receipts for costs ready. For example, your filing fees and any process server costs. Make sure to let the judge know that you would like to be reimbursed for these costs.
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).
Are attorneys allowed in small claims court?
Attorneys are not allowed to represent you or the person you sued at the initial hearing.
If the person you sued appeals (meaning they lost and want the judge to decide again) then attorneys are allowed to represent the parties at the appeal hearing.
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.