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Tips on filing a Small Claims Court case

If you have a dispute that can’t be resolved, you may consider taking it to Small Claims Court, which is designed to be far cheaper and quicker than regular court. In this forum there are no attorneys or juries — you present your own case and the person you’re suing gets the chance to tell his or her side of the story. Some key things to know:

•How much can I ask for? The maximum amount an individual can sue for in Small Claims Court in California is $10,000. For businesses, the limit is $5,000. If you file multiple cases in a calendar year, only two of them can be for more than $2,500. You cannot split your case into separate filings to exceed the maximum.

•How much does it cost? There’s a $30 filing fee for a case asking for up to $1,500; $50 for a claim over $1,500 and up to $5,000; and $75 for a claim over $5,000. If you file more than 12 cases in a year, subsequent cases will cost $100 to file.

•Where do I file? Each county has its own Small Claims Court. Generally, you must file in the county where the contract was signed, the incident in question took place, the purchase was made, the person you are suing lives or the business involved is located. If in doubt, ask the court.

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•How long do I have to file a case? You have two years to file for cases related to injury or spoken agreements, three years for fraud or property damage cases and four years for disputes involving a written agreement.

•Where can I go for more information? Most courts provide a free small claims advisor to help plaintiffs and defendants. To find the advisor in your county, call your local court or visit https://www.courts.ca.gov/selfhelp-advisors.htm.

scott.wilson@latimes.com


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