So you have been served and you’re expecting to go to small claims court for one reason or another. If you’ve never been to small claims court, you probably have no clue what to expect. To learn what you can expect when you appear in small claims, just read this article!
Over 158,000 small claims court cases were filed in California last year. Getting summoned for this type of claim can come as a complete surprise.
However, given that over 400 cases are filed every single day, you’re far from alone if you find yourself in this position.
To help you get a much better understanding of what you’re walking into, here’s exactly what you can expect after receiving your Plaintiffs Claim and Order to Go to Small Claims Court:
What Qualifies for Small Claims Court?
The thresholds for small claims cases vary between states. In California, a sole proprietor or another individual can file a suit for up to $10,000. The filing limit for corporate entities is $5,000.
There is also an annual limit for all parties of only two claims over $2,500 in any specific California court. As far as what types of claims get filed, property damage and contract breach cases are very common.
Other potential cases may involve defective products, fraud, unpaid debt, personal injury or landlord-tenant disputes. All cases heard in small claims court fall into the civil category
How Claims Are Filed
The process of filing this type of claim involves a few steps. An individual can go to a California civil courthouse and get instructions from a court clerk. It’s not uncommon for the court to have claim document available.
Once the claimant completes this form, they can pay the filing fee and file it in person, some courts allow you to file your small claims documents electronically, find out here if your court allows you to do this. The service of a small claims action is typically handled by a California process server.
If you received a summons for a small claims case, it was likely delivered to you by a process server. The role of this professional is to ensure that the court has jurisdiction over the case and can hear and make a judgment on the case.
Also the California Registered Process Server has a responsibility to the defendant in the case by ensuring them the opportunity to defend themselves by delivering the notice properly and timely.
Steps to Take After Receiving a Small Claims Action
One of the most common questions people have in regards to receiving a small claims action is what happens if they don’t show up. If someone takes this course of action, the claimant will receive a default judgment.
That default judgment entitles them to the full amount of their claim. Not only will the judgment be valid for ten years, with the ability to extend the life of the judgment every 10 years, but it will remain on the defendant’s credit report for at least seven years if they fail to pay it.
While there may be situations when it makes sense for a defendant to skip appearing, this isn’t a choice anyone should make without first speaking with an attorney. It can also be possible to vacate a default judgment.
If you receive a small claims action and plan on appearing, you can decide whether or not you want to seek guidance from an attorney beforehand but generally attorneys are not allowed to represent you in the initial small claims hearing.
Because attorneys aren’t allowed for this type of case, you will simply appear on your own. Be sure you know the court’s address that the hearing will take place in, the day, time and department of your case. You’ll want to arrive at the courthouse early.
You will likely see a posted docket or calendar that shows where to go. You can also speak with a clerk or more likely, the information desk if you’re unsure. The best way to make this process go as smoothly as possible is to dress and act with respect from the time you arrive.
It is highly recommended that if you have the time and ability to do so, before your hearing date, go and observe several small claims court hearings. They are generally open to the public and you will learn so much, especially what not to do in your small claims trial.
Shortly after receiving your Plaintiffs Claim and Order to Go to Small Claims Court you will also need to decide if you have a counter claim and need to file your own small claims action against the plaintiff. You would do this by filing a Defendants Claim and Order to Go to Small Claims Court and following the same procedure above that the plaintiff did filing and serving their notice on you. The fillable forms are available here at the bottom of this webpage.
Knowing What Happens in the Courtroom
Since hundreds of these cases are filed every day, chances are you’ll need to wait a bit for your case to be called. Once it is, enter the courtroom and listen closely to what the judge says.
The case will start with the judge reading names and then asking the claimant for a brief case description. Avoid interrupting the judge or claimant at any time.
When you are asked to speak, try to be very clear with all your statements. Staying calm will put you far ahead of most small claims defendants.
The standard process is the judge will take time to hear both sides, as well as any witnesses that are involved.
In most cases if both the plaintiff and defendant show up for the hearing, the judge will not disclose at the hearing who wins the case, you will likely be told, “I’ll decide the case under submission and you will receive my decision through the mail.”
This is done for a couple of reasons but the biggest one is that they do not want the losing party to get angry or upset in the courtroom or have an incident between the two parties after the judgment is announced.
Wrapping Up the Small Claims Experience
The last big question many people have is what happens in small claims court if you lose. Once the judge has heard both sides, a ruling will be made.
Generally the plaintiff will not be able to appeal the decision unless the judge made an error in applying the law to the case. The defendant in most cases will be allowed to file an appeal for almost any reason, this sometimes is used as a stalling tactic to prevent the judgment from going into effect for a period of time.
The key to actually winning an appeal is to bring new evidence or information to the case. Simply arguing the same facts again won’t yield a different outcome.
One important fact to know about the California Small Claims Court system is that during a small claims appeal both sides are allowed to be represented by an attorney, so it may be worth it to hire one if the judgment is large enough and the case has some complicated legal issues.
In the event you win after being summoned, you will have the legal right to collect the judgment amount, court filing fees and recoverable process serving fees. Actually collecting the money you’re owed may be a challenge, which is why plenty of people enlist judgment enforcement services.
Do You Need to File Your Own Claim?
Receiving an unexpected Plaintiffs Claim and Order to Go to Small Claims Court or Defendants Claim and Order to Go to Small Claims Court can be a jarring experience. But it’s important to remember that a small claims case is only civil and not criminal in nature. You can also seek legal counsel if you need additional guidance.
Given how common small claims court cases are, you may one day find yourself on the other side of this issue. Whether it’s for your business or a personal matter, the small claims system provides a legal route for pursuing what’s owed to you.
While individuals often file their own claims, business owners may be too busy to complete this task. That’s especially true if multiple claims have to be filed throughout the year.
The good news is that D&R Legal Process Service, LLC can help. We can act as your small claims “department” by handling all filing and serving. Our team can also assist with collecting your judgment.
To learn more about this service, be sure to check out our small claims court page or call us today at 1-510-797-9996.