What is a Small Claims Court?

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  • Written By: Garry Crystal
  • Edited By: Niki Foster
  • Last Modified Date: 19 December 2019
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A small claims case is the process of going to court to settle a dispute without the need for lawyers. When a case is heard in a small claims court, the dispute is usually resolved by a judge immediately. The disputes involved are most likely to be monetary, and the amount is usually below 5,000 US dollars (USD). As in most legal cases, there are many rules and regulations regarding a small claims action.

The small claims court usually hears cases involving money that is owed, car accidents, and property damage. If you have seen television shows such as Judge Judy, then you should have a good idea of a small claims court. Once the judge has heard all the evidence, he or she decides the verdict.

The person who brings a case to the small claims court must represent himself. No lawyers are allowed to talk for the plaintiff, the person who is bringing the case to court. There are no rules about receiving advice from a lawyer before bringing the case to small claims court, however.

Disputes heard in small claims court are usually dealt with very quickly. Once a claim has been filed, the case is usually heard within two months. The court hearing itself may only last for around 15 minutes. The judge delivers a verdict at the end of the hearing, or the verdict may be sent by post.


The first step in bringing a small claims action is to write to the defendant asking for an agreement or settlement of the money owed. If no agreement can be reached, then the next step is to file a complaint with the small claims court. There will be a small filing fee, as well as a cost to notify the defendant of the intended action.

When the case comes to court, the plaintiff should have all necessary evidence pertaining to the case. Letters to the defendant, including the original letters sent asking for a settlement, must be presented to the judge. Witnesses are also allowed to appear in the small claim court. If a witness fails to appear, then she can be made to appear by issuing a subpoena.

The plaintiff will also have the chance to make a brief statement to the judge. This can either be verbally or through a written document. The statement should only deal with the relevant case. The judge will ask many questions throughout the hearing, and it is important to answer them fully.

Once the case has been heard and the judgment made, the case is over. If the judge has issued a verdict in favor of the defendant, then no appeal can be made by the plaintiff. The plaintiff may file for a motion to reconsider the verdict, but only the defendant is allowed to appeal against the ultimate verdict.


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Post 10

I hired a maid to come in and clean my house. She stole our wedding gifts. I have no video camera to prove it. Outraged, I stopped payment on her cleaning check for $85, after receiving threatening text messages. She is now suing me for the cleaning check in small claims court plus bank fees and filing fee.

I found out that she is not paying taxes, nor is she operating with a business license. What do I do? I have 10 days to respond to the court if I owe her money, if I owe her part of the money, or if I don't owe her at all. How do I handle?

Post 8

What happens if you are an expat living overseas, living say over 10 years away from home, and while on holiday, in say, UK, a landlord of your holiday cottage threatens retrospectively after your departure to send you a small claims court summons for damage to their property. Lets say its less than 100 pounds. Do you have to fly back and appear in court, are you obliged under that countries jurisdiction, to do that?

Post 7

pd194265 - First of all if the plaintiff has an attorney, then it doesn't sound like this is a small claims case -- so i don't know that your post is relevant to this particular article. But, while you typically can't sue a dead person, you can sue a dead person's estate, even if it is passing by intestate succession (i.e., without a will or an executor). Whether the claim still lives or not really depends on the particulars of the claim. If you are an heir to the deceased, it might be wise to consult an attorney to see what you can do to secure your interests.

Post 6

what happens when the defendant is deceased, left no will and the wife will not be the executor of estate etc. the plaintiff who has a lawyer knew the defendant was deceased when he filed the claim. of course, no one appeared on the court date. what happens now to the claim?

Post 5

Anonymous - Small claims court procedures vary by jurisdiction, i.e., state. Generally, you do not need to write a letter to the opposing party. You just need to follow your state's small claims procedure. Many states have instructions on how to file a small claims case online. Just run a search for "small claims" and add in the name of your state and you should find some helpful information. If you need more advice, you should find some contact information there as well.

Post 2

is it necessary to write a letter to the plaintiff before appearing in small claims court informing him of the course of action that is to take place?

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