What is Small Claims Court?
Unless the amount you’re seeking is higher than a certain threshold amount (the “jurisdictional limit”), most states require you to file your lawsuit in small claims court, and anything above the jurisdictional limit requires you to file your case in a higher court. Depending on the state, the jurisdictional limit ranges from from as low as $2,500 to as high as $10,000. For your state’s limit, click here.
Most cases that are filed in small claims court involve the collection of small debts and any other dispute that falls below the jurisdictional limit. For example, doctor’s bills resulting from an accident, costs of repairing a car or appliance, damages for breach of a contract, and nearly every other type of small dollar cases are heard in small claims court. NOTE: Some states require eviction cases to be brought in a higher court.
Should You Sue in Small Claims Court?
Small claims courts have simplified procedures, and cases that are filed in small claims courts are typically resolved within a month or two, which is great if you’re the plaintiff. Filing fees are also cheaper, and other litigants are usually just as nervous as you might be. However, small claims courts can only grant a judgment up to a certain dollar amount. If your actual damages are anything above that amount, you must file in a higher court.
For example, someone backs into your car, and the repair bill is $3,000. The small claims jurisdictional limit in your area is $2,500, so, if you want to be completely reimbursed, your only choice is to sue in a higher court. On the down site, higher courts have higher filing fees, more complex procedural rules, and the process is a lot slower. In fact, it may a year or more before your case is heard.
In some cases, however, you may be able to sue in small claims court even if the amount you feel you’re entitled to is higher than the court’s jurisdictional limit. For example, someone backs into your car and you paid $2,000 to repair it. You also wound up hurting your neck and went through a great deal of pain and suffering. You have $2,000 in actual damages, so you can file in small claims court if you want, but you can also bring your case in a higher court, based on your pain and suffering damages.
If you sue in small claims court, you waive your right to claim more than the court can award, but you can get your money back a lot more quickly. When deciding whether to sue in small claims court, there are ther considerations to take into account. For instance, jury trials are rarely permitted in small-claims courts, and other remedies, and many states do not permit domestic disputes and eviction cases in small-claims court.