If you want to settle a dispute without paying expensive attorney fees, consider filing a small claims court case in Los Angeles (LA) County. Small Claims Court is a division of the California Superior Court that handles civil disputes between individuals and businesses with damages of $10,000 or less. This blog post will explain how Small Claims Court works in LA County, CA.
What is a Small Claim Case?
A small claims case is a legal proceeding filed in a local court of law. Disputes can include unpaid debts, personal injuries, or damaged property. A small claims case differs from other types of lawsuits because it has much lower filing fees, simplified procedures, and limits on how much money the court can award at the end of the trial.
How Does the Los Angeles Small Claims Court Work?
The small claims court handles disputes between citizens who cannot resolve their issues through other means. Lawyers are not allowed to represent parties at the hearing. There are no jury trials. Instead, it’s a simplified process where the plaintiff and defendant each offer their side of the case, then go home with a decision from the judge.
Before Small Claims Court
Did you know you have one more option before small claims court? Before filing a claim, you can send a letter demanding payment. Some states, like California, require that you formally demand payment before filing a case in small claims court. Demand letters often allow people to resolve disputes outside of court and avoid the time and fees associated with court. If you have yet to try this option, read more about how to write an effective demand letter and how best to send it to the person who owes you money. Alternatively, you can use tools such as JusticeDirect to generate and send a custom demand letter for free and leave the headache out!
Generally, to file a claim, you must first complete SC-100 to describe the dispute and the damages sought. The court clerk reviews the filed complaint paperwork and assigns it to a judge.
The value of your claim determines filing fees, and courts may charge different filing costs.
Claim AmountFiling Fee
$0 – $1500 $30
$1,500.01- $5000 $50
$5,000.01- $10,000 * $75
Frequent Filer ** $100
*Only individuals, not businesses, can sue for this amount. **If you file more than 12 cases in 12 months, you must pay a $100 filing fee. Additional fees may apply for extra copies of documents.
Serving the Defendant
Once you have filed your complaint, you must serve the defendant with a copy. Serving the defendant makes them aware that you have filed a case against them, so they must respond accordingly and attend the hearing.
You have different options when serving the defendant, which may differ depending on your county court’s allowable options. Some options may have a fee, but if you win the case, it will become reimbursable by the other party.
You may be able to serve through:
- A professional process service
- Certified mail
- County’s sheriff/marshall
You may also have a friend/family member serve the complaint if it’s allowed by the court. Most importantly, you cannot do it yourself if you are a party in the case.
The defendant then has 20 days to file an answer with the court. After the defendant has filed an answer, the court will set a date for a hearing. At the hearing, both sides can present evidence and witnesses. The judge will then decide based on the evidence presented at the hearing.
The court will issue a judgment if the two parties cannot reach an agreement. The party who loses the case can then appeal the decision within 30 days.
The Court Hearing
After filing the complaint, the court will schedule a hearing for the case. It will typically be several weeks to months from the date of filing.
Both parties can present their case and any evidence they have to support their claims. The judge will listen to both sides and decide based on the law and the evidence presented.
Enforcing the Judgment
If the judge rules in your favor, they will award a judgment that the defendant will have to pay; this is a formal way for the court to indicate that the defendant now owes you money. The court will not be paying you directly. If the defendant does not pay the judgment voluntarily, you may “collect” on it, including garnishing the defendant’s wages or seizing their assets.
Is there a limit to how much money you can get in Los Angeles’s small claims court?
- Individuals or businesses represented by an individual: $10,000
- Businesses: $5,000
If you filed more than two cases in the same calendar year, you can only sue for $2,500 or less in subsequent cases.
How do I start?
Filing a small claims complaint by the plaintiff (the party suing) initiates small claims litigation. The plaintiff must briefly state the justifications for the claim against the defendant in the complaint, which must be visible (the person being sued).
- Small claims in California
- Basic Considerations and Questions
- California Small Claims Court: An Overview
- California Law
What is the deadline for filing your claim?
In LA, cases must be filed within a certain amount of time, called a statute of limitation. In each case, you must calculate the time limit from the date the other party broke the contract or caused damage/injury/fraud.
- Personal Injury – 2 Years
- Property Damage – 3 Years
- Oral Contracts – 2 Years
- Written Agreements – 4 Years
What happens if you don’t attend Los Angeles Small Claims Court?
If the plaintiff doesn’t appear at the hearing or notify the court of the reason for the absence, the court has several options. The judge may:
- Reschedule the case
- Dismiss the case with prejudice
- Dismiss the case without prejudice
- If the defendant appears, the judge may enter a judgment against you after considering the defendant’s evidence.
To learn more about how to request dismissal after filing your claim in California, read here.