Small claims court California 2023-08-01
Top Mistakes to Avoid When Filing a Case in a Small Claims Court in California

In order to file a small claims lawsuit in California, you will need to start by filing a Plaintiff’s Claim and Order to Go to Small Claims Court, or Form SC-100. At SueYa, you can get a copy of the form and help filling it out. The California small claims court process offers a fast and easy way to get a judgment on a relatively minor claim in California. Before you go to court, however, you need to make sure that you understand the process and can avoid key errors that may prevent you from getting the judgment you’re asking for.

Understanding Small Claims Court in California

When you believe that the other party owes you less than $10,000, or $5,000 if you intend to file as a business, you may have the right to go to small claims court. Small claims court is usually about money, but in some cases, you may go to court because you want someone to do something, such as returning an item or removing an illegal item, but would accept money instead. 

Small claims cases are generally civil cases, including:

  • Debt collection or loan repayment
  • Minor injury claims
  • Breach of contract disputes
  • Professional negligence claims
  • Security deposit claims

If you have a strong case, you may find it much easier to move forward with the small claims process and get the support you need. 

Top Mistakes to Avoid When Filing a Small Claims Case

If you need to file a small claims case in California, make sure you avoid these top errors. 

Mistake #1: Ignoring Mediation or Settlement Opportunities

Mediation gives both sides involved in a small claims case the opportunity to lay out their demands and requirements and pursue a resolution that fits the needs of both sides, often in front of a mediator. If you can settle without going to court, you may end up with a faster settlement. Not only that, you can avoid expensive court costs, cutting the cost of your dispute.

Mistake #2: Filing a Case Without Sufficient Evidence

Before you move forward with a small claims case, you need to gather all relevant documents and evidence. Suppose, for example, that your landlord has failed to return your deposit. You may need to show a copy of your lease agreement, the money you paid as a deposit, and pictures of the property, showing that there were no problems that would allow your landlord to keep the deposit.

Mistake #3: Choosing the Wrong Defendant or Legal Entity

It’s important to understand who you need to sue in a small claims case, since failure to identify the right party could result in your claim getting thrown out. Clarify any issues related to personal vs. business liability and ensure that you are approaching the right party. When in doubt, speak with a legal professional to learn more.

Mistake #4: Not Properly Serving the Defendant

In order to properly serve the defendant, you can either hand the forms to the defendant directly, hand the forms to someone at their home or work (substituted service), or have the court clerk send the forms by certified mail. If you fail to properly serve the defendant, it can slow down the process and prevent you from getting your resolution.

Mistake #5: Missing the Statute of Limitations

Pay attention to the statute of limitations in California. In most cases, you will have two years from the date an oral contract is broken or four years from the date a written contract is broken to file a claim. If you do not file within the prescribed timeframe, you may miss out on your chance to receive the funds you may deserve.

Mistake #6: Inadequate Preparation for the Hearing

Before you present your case, you need to make sure you have all the information in hand and that you are prepared to present it competently. You should talk to any witnesses and prepare them to testify as well as preparing yourself to clearly and articulately explain your side to the judge.

 Tips for a Successful Small Claims Case

If you want to successfully present your small claims case to the court, make sure you:

  • Conduct thorough research and seek legal advice if necessary. Make sure you understand your rights as well as the overall small claims process. 
  • Keep detailed records and documentation, especially when it comes to lending money or contracts. 
  • Practice your presentation and anticipate counterarguments. Be prepared to make a clear argument in your favor.
  • Be respectful and professional throughout the process. The judge will be more likely to rule in your favor when you are professional and practical. 

With these tips, you increase the odds that you can present your small claims case effectively and, ultimately, win. 

Let SueYa Help You Avoid Key Small Claims Mistakes

From missing the statute of limitations to failing to do your research before filing the claim, there are many mistakes that can interfere with your ability to recover the compensation you deserve. When necessary, seek legal advice to help you deal with the process and get the results you really need. SueYa can help ensure that you file your claim correctly, that you have all the details you need on hand, and that you’re ready to present your case. Contact us today to learn more.