Small Claims Court: How to Navigate the Rules and Procedures

Small claims court is where small disputes are heard and adjudicated. There are small claims courts in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

What Claims Are Heard in Small Claims Court?

The types of claims that are typically brought in small claims court include: landlord/tenant disputes, property damage disputes, breach of contract, auto accidents, and disputes over unpaid loans. Beyond the basic types of claims brought in small claims court, there is usually a limit to how much the person bringing the lawsuit (the plaintiff) can ask for when filing a small claim. Each state has its own limit, beyond which the plaintiff is not allowed to file in small claims court. Plaintiffs can, in some circumstances, lower the claim amount in order to qualify.

What Happens in Small Claims Court?

Small claims courts are significantly less formal than other courts. There are no juries. Disputes are resolved by a judge or magistrate. The parties to the dispute usually represent themselves without a lawyer present. The parties may bring witnesses or submit documents as evidence supporting their case.

Who Can Sue in Small Claims?

Although each state has its own rules governing small claims filing and procedure, there are some similarities. In general, you must be at least 18 years of age in order to file a claim in small claims court. There are those that may not file in small claims, such as collection agencies and banks. Corporations are usually allowed to file a claim, but must be represented by an employee or officer.

What Can You Get in Small Claims?

If you prevail in small claims, you will receive whatever dollar sum the judge awards you. Most if not all small claims courts do not award property, nor will the judge issue an injunction prohibiting anyone from doing anything or requiring someone to do something. The recovery is the money. Nor can the court force the other party to pay the judgment. These are all good things to know if you are contemplating a small claims lawsuit.

Specific rules, limits and procedures are provided for the following states:

California
Florida
Georgia
Illinois
Michigan
New Jersey
New York
Ohio
Pennsylvania
Texas

If your state is not included in the list above, try the Free Advice Small Claims Court Information and Links page for specific information about your state and its small claims rules and procedures.