County of Los Angeles
Department of Consumer Affairs
What to do if you’re sued in
Small Claims Court
If you are served with a Plaintiff's Claim, you have been sued. You are the Defendant and the person suing you is the Plaintiff. You need to prepare to go to court on the date and time listed on the Plaintiff’s Claim.
Can I settle out of court?
Yes. Talk to the Plaintiff and try to resolve the dispute before going to court. If the dispute isn’t settled, you can try mediation. Our Dispute Settlement Service offers free mediation. Call us at (213) 974-0825.
If your dispute is not solved before your court date, be prepared to go to court.
How do I prepare for court?
Bring two copies of any documents that help prove your case. Proof includes canceled checks, receipts, contracts, police reports, repair estimates, medical records and photographs. You can also bring witnesses to court. (See Subpoenas.)
Are there time limits for suing?
Yes. The law limits how long a person can wait before suing you. This is called the Statute of Limitations. Here are the most common ones:
- Written contract – four years from the date the contract was broken;
- Oral contract – two years from the date the contract was broken;
- Personal injury – two years from the date of injury or from the date the injury was discovered;
- Property damage - three years from the date the damage happened;
- Fraud - three years from the date fraud was discovered.
If the case against you is too old, tell the Judge on your hearing date. The case may be dismissed.
How much can I be sued for?
The most an individual or a business owned by an individual can sue or be sued for in Small Claims Court is $10,000. (There are limitations that apply. Contact us for more information.)
Choosing the right court
There are many courts in Los Angeles County, but the Plaintiff must file the case at the right court location. This is called Venue. You must be sued at the court closest to where you live, where the damage, dispute or injury took place, or where a contract was signed.
If you are being sued in the wrong court, you can challenge the venue. (See
Can a lawyer represent me in court?
No. You and the Plaintiff must represent yourselves. You can speak with a lawyer before or after going to court for legal advice. A lawyer can only represent parties if a small claims case is appealed.
What if the Plaintiff owes me money?
If the Plaintiff owes you money, you can countersue. To countersue, file a Defendant's Claim form at the clerk’s office where you are being sued. On a Defendant's Claim, you can only sue the same person(s) or entity that is suing you. Your countersuit will usually be heard at the same time as the Plaintiff's Claim.
You can also file your own Plaintiff's Claim. (See Plaintiff's Menu.)
How do I serve the Plaintiff?
If you countersue, someone must serve your Defendant's Claim to the Plaintiff at least five days before the hearing date. You cannot serve the Defendant's Claim yourself. You can hire a Sheriff or registered process server. You can also have someone over the age of 18 who is not a party to the case do the service.
The person serving the Defendant’s Claim must file a Proof of Service with the court clerk. (See Serving Court Papers.)
If you are unable to have the Defendant's Claim served, go to court on your hearing date and tell the Judge. The Judge can hear, postpone or dismiss your Defendant's Claim.
Court forms are available here and at California Courts - Forms. Select "Small Claims" from the pull down menu. Forms are also available at the Court Clerk's office.
Contact us for more information or speak with one of our counselors at (800) 593-8222. If you live outside of Southern California, call us at (213) 974-9759.
Updated Jan. 20, 2012
For more information:
County of Los Angeles Department of Consumer Affairs
B-96 Kenneth Hahn Hall of Administration
500 W. Temple Street *
Los Angeles, CA 90012-2706
Telephone (800) 593-8222 (within LA County)
web site: dca.lacounty.gov