California Small Claims Court
UPDATED: December 12, 2019
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Individuals looking to solve legal disputes less than $7,500 in value (or corporations with disputes that total less than $5,000) can file their claim in California’s small claims courts. This legal system was designed to create an informal, streamlined way of dealing with legal disputes between a plaintiff (person filing the lawsuit) and defendant (person being sued). Plaintiffs can file their California small claim in the county in which the defendant resides or where the injury occurred.
California’s small claims courts deal with issues such as car accidents, landlord-tenant disputes, property damage, personal injury, contracts, and owed money. Though California law does not allow attorneys to be present at small claims hearings, you are allowed to consult with a lawyer before or after your claim.
Claim Limit: Claims under $7,500 in value (individual) or $5,000 (corporation).
Venue: You should file your California small claim in the county in which the injury occurred or where the defendant lives.
Cases Handled: Common types of cases include car accidents, personal injury, property damage, money owed, and landlord-tenant disputes.
Filing Eligibility: Business entities such as partnerships and corporations, as well as individuals over the age of 18 can file a California small claim. However, persons deemed mentally incompetent by the court, or who are under 18 years of age, must have a qualified adult file on their behalf.
How to File: To file your California small claim, go to the small claims court in the county in which you are filing and fill out the appropriate paperwork. Forms can vary depending on the county, so filing procedures vary. You may also be able to use an online system to file your paperwork, depending on the county. Once you have filed and paid the proper fee, you will need to serve paperwork on the defendant(s) and provide the court with a Proof of Service form.
Help Filing Your California Small Claim: While court clerks and legal librarians are readily accessible and know the law and the legal system better than most, they are not always allowed to provide legal help due to state laws and court rules that prohibit non-lawyers from giving legal advice. The California courts website provides a comprehensive small claims self-help center with complete county and state small claims information and forms. If you still feel you need more help, an experienced California small claims attorney can offer legal advice on your small claim.
For more state-specific information and links to your state's small claims court resources, see Small Claims Court Information and Links.