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  • Salma Suleyman

Things To Consider When Filing a Small Claims Case

Updated: Apr 15

Filing a case in small claims court is a viable and great solution for claims and disputes

that are worth $12,500 or less for individuals and $6,250 or less for businesses. Small

claims cases can encompass categories such as wage theft, personal injury, small debt

collection, tenancy disputes, construction disputes, and property damage.

Regardless of the category, the first step in any small claims case is to ensure that

nothing bars your claim. For example, is there a document that contractually obligates

you to resolve your case out of court in either arbitration or mediation. Next, are you

within the applicable statute of limitations? The subject matter of your claim will dictate

the statute of limitations. For property damage, you have 3 years from the date the

damage incurred. For matters where there is a written agreement, you have 4 years

from the date the agreement was broken. If the agreement is verbal, you have 2 years

from the date the agreement was broken.

Once you are certain that you can proceed with suing in small claims court, you must

get clarity on who you are suing. If you are suing a healthcare provider, the state or

local government, or an attorney there are very different processes not addressed in

this article. Once you determine who you need to sue, you should consider whether

they have the money you are demanding. You may win your case, but the small claims

court is not involved in ensuring the award amount is paid. Further, is the amount you

are suing for worth the stress and worth potentially souring relationships with friends or

neighbors? If you have identified the person you are suing, you next need to know

where this person resides. You will need their address for the court forms, and it may

also be helpful in determining the jurisdiction.

The next and most important step is compiling proof that you’re owed money. This proof

can be receipts, photos, records and/or any form of written communication. Sometimes

locating and producing these documents can take time, but evidence is critical. A

critical piece of evidence will be showing the court that you asked the person you want

to sue for the monies owed. This link will help you put that letter together. Once you’ve

asked for the money, you can wait for a reply or file your claim immediately.

When you’re ready to file your claim begin the process by first filing out form SC-100. As

mentioned earlier, you will need the legal name of the person you are suing (the

defendant) and court address where you want to file the forms. Usually, the jurisdiction

is determined by where the defendant lives – but in some matters, there are options.

There may also be local forms and additional forms. Finally, make copies of your

complete claim. You should have a copy for yourself and a copy for each defendant.

Depending on the court, you can file your claim by mail and/or online. You must pay a

fee when you file your claim, and that fee is related to the amount for which you are

suing. The list on this link is helpful.

The next step is to have your claim served. It must be served in the State of California,

and you can’t serve the claim yourself. The server (must be 18 or older and not

involved in the case) should hand deliver the forms to the defendant or any adult willing

to accept forms at the defendant’s home or place of work. The server has to fill out and

sign a proof of service . Once it is signed, your server should return it to you. The

server must also mail a copy of the forms to the defendant. It is best to hand serve as

early as possible but at least 15 days before your court date. Make yourself a copy of

the proof of service and file the original copy with the court at least 5 days before the

court date for the hearing.

Ready to navigate your small claims case with confidence? Take the first step today and schedule a free consultation with one of our legal experts. Please email Gomerman | Bourn & Associates or you can call (415) 545-8608.

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