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Taking Your Case To Small Claims Court

You have been injured in an accident, and you do not think your case would settle for large amount of money. However, it might be a perfect suit for small claims court, and you could handle the case yourself, saving the large percentage of your settlement which an attorney would claim. Is your case really a good small claims case? Can you handle it yourself? Here are some facts to help you decide if you should pursue your case in small claims court in California.

This is a short list of things you must do if you are to successfully file and pursue a small claim case. Each of these points is linked to an article which will give you more detailed information.

  1. The first thing to do is to determine what type of injury you are claiming. Do you have medical bills? Will you continue to need rehabilitation in the future? Is your property damaged? You must have a dollar figure in mind before you file your claim, so now is a good time to sit down and total the costs, both concrete and abstract, which your injury has incurred.
  2. There are different rules in small claims court for automobile accidents and other types of personal injury. This is because many automobile accidents are covered by an insurance company with what is known as a "duty to defend." This means that an insurance company has a responsibility to defend its insured against claims made by others. Because of this, automobile accident cases have slightly different rules for recovery than slip and fall cases, for example.

  3. If you feel you have a claim which meets the guidelines for a small claims case, you may choose to file. There are limits for collecting in small claims court, as follows:
    • If you have a non-auto accident personal injury, you can file up to two claims per calendar year, neither in excess of $2,500. However, if you are a "natural person" (as opposed to a business or agent for another person), you can file for up to $10,000 per year.
    • If your injury was caused by an automobile accident, and the responsible driver is insured, the maximum you may collect in small claims court is $7,500.
  4. This is a simplification of the actual law; if you have questions, you should ask your small claims court's liaison for more information. You can also find more detail about filing a case in small claims court here: Filing Your Claim.

  5. Once you have filed your claim, you will need to serve your claim on all the defendants involved. There are several ways you can do this in small claims court, but you must have someone besides yourself perform the service.
  6. After you have filed and served your claim, you will have a chance to bring your case before a small claims court judge. This requires a great deal of preparation on your part, but can be the quickest and most successful way to get a judgment. You can find more information about how to conduct your research and present your case here: Taking Your Claim to Court.
  7. Finally, you must collect your judgment. This is a separate issue from obtaining a judgment, and may prove to be the hardest part of the whole case.

More than knowing "how to" is required to be successful in filing and prosecuting a claim in small claims court. While small claims court exists to benefit the average person who has a simple claim, many people seem to think that simply because they choose to file a case they will get some money. Nothing could be further from the truth; in fact, you are less likely to get a settlement by going to small claims court, in some cases, than by simply talking with the defendant or the insurance company. Of course, if you have a claim for significant damages, you should always contact a professional personal injury attorney rather than try to handle the matter on your own.

Before you file a case in small claims court, ask yourself a few important questions:

  • Why am I filing this case?
  • Do I have a realistic dollar amount, backed up by evidence, which I can claim?
  • Is there an easier or better way to collect this amount?
  • Have I tried to communicate with the defendant and settle the matter privately?

These questions should start you thinking about the nature of the case you are filing. Unfortunately, some people file small claims cases for reasons other than to collect damages: revenge, troublemaking, or anger at the defendant. These cases almost never work; you are better off spending your money in better and more constructive ways.

However, if you have a legitimate small claim which the defendant has refused to acknowledge, and you are prepared to do a bit of work in researching, filing, and presenting your case, a small claims case may be just right for you!

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