How to sue in small claims court.  UCLA small claims info.

If you want to sue someone and the amount involved in the lawsuit is less than $5">

How to sue in small claims court.  UCLA small claims info.

If you want to sue someone and the amount involved in the lawsuit is less than $5,000, you may sue in Small Claims Court. Small Claims Court is a special court that is well suited to non-lawyers because the procedural rules are much simpler than those in other courts. The trial is fairly informal and the rules of evidence are relaxed. Consequently, most non-lawyers find Small Claims Court to be less intimidating than "regular" court. Another advantage to Small Claims Court is that you tend to get to trial more quickly than in other courts. In West Los Angeles, for example, it generally takes only 4 - 6 weeks to get to trial.

Before filing a lawsuit in Small Claims Court, you must make several determinations. First, you must determine if your case qualifies. You may not sue for more than $5,000 in Small Claims Court, so you should not file there if you want to recover more than $5,000. If that is the case, you should file in Municipal Court if the amount involved is less than $25,000 or Superior Court if the amount exceeds $25,000. If your claim is worth more than $5,000 but you are willing to forego recovering more than that amount, you may sue in Small Claims Court and waive the amount in excess of $5,000.

Second, you must be certain that you know the proper person to sue (the "defendant") and have the defendant's correct name and address. There are special requirements for suing a business, and the court clerk has written information that will help you.

Third, you must determine which branch of Small Claims Court should hear your case. Generally, you should file in the branch court for the geographic area either where the defendant lives or where the incident about which you are suing occurred. You should call the court to find out which court is the appropriate one.

Finally, in most cases, you should make a demand for the money, either oral or written, on the defendant before filing the suit.

Once you are ready to file the lawsuit, you should go to the appropriate courthouse and locate the small claims filing window where you can get the forms and information necessary to file. The clerk may be able to assist you if you have questions. In the main courthouse downtown, there are volunteer advisors available to answer your questions during certain hours. For information, call (213) 974-9759. If you are a currently registered UCLA student, you should call Student Legal Services to schedule an appointment.

There is a $20 filing fee, unless you have filed more than twelve claims in the previous twelve months. You will be given a trial date when you file. You also will be given a form named "Plaintiff's Claim" that will need to be served upon the defendant. The defendant can be served personally either by the sheriff (for a $26 fee) or by someone who is over 18 years old and is not a party to the lawsuit (i.e., a friend of yours but not you). If your friend serves the defendant, be certain your friend completes the Proof of Service form the clerk will give you and then file the completed form with the clerk before the trial. The court clerk also can serve the defendant by certified mail with a return receipt required.

At trial, you should be prepared to explain your case to the judge clearly and concisely. It is advisable to have a written outline of your remarks. You also should bring with you to court all of the documents supporting your case (the original and 2 copies if possible), as well as the witnesses for your side. You may subpoena witnesses who do not want to appear voluntarily.

The judge may make a decision while you are in court or s/he may "take it under advisement" and inform you of the decision by mail. If the defendant loses, s/he may appeal the decision. The plaintiff, however, may not appeal if s/he loses. The judgment form will advise you of some of the special rules regarding appeal.

If you have a judgment in your favor, you may use court procedures to collect the judgment. For more information, please refer to the article How to Collect a Court Judgment, which is in this Web site.

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