How to Sue in Small Claims Court
Preparing For Your Day in Court
After your case is filed, you should begin preparing for court.
The Small Claims Hearing
Most small claims cases last only 15 to 20 minutes. For this reason, you want to organize your evidence ahead of time and make brief notes of what you want to say in court.
If you have documents, bring the original and two photocopies. You will keep the original and give one copy to the Judge and the other to the Defendant.
What type of evidence should I bring?
Here are some examples of evidence to bring to court:
What if I don’t speak English?
If you do not speak English, bring someone who can interpret for you. The court may not have an interpreter available.
What happens on the court date?
Before your case is heard, the Judge will ask you to speak with the Defendant and try to resolve the case. At that time, you and the Defendant will share evidence with each other. If you cannot come to an agreement, the Judge will hear your case.
What if I get a Temporary Judge?
A temporary Judge, called a Judge Pro Tem, is a lawyer who hears cases and makes decisions, just like a regular Judge. If you do not want a Temporary Judge to hear your case, you can ask the court for a permanent Judge. If a permanent Judge is not available, you may have to come back another day.
How do I behave in court?
Be respectful to the Judge, the Defendant and everyone else in the courtroom. In court, only one person speaks at a time. Do not interrupt others who are speaking.
How do I present my case?
When the Judge allows you to speak, get right to the point and stick to the facts of your case. Give the Judge copies of your evidence. You can refer to your notes but do not read a prepared statement to the Judge. If the Judge asks you a question, answer it directly. Avoid long statements that do not directly answer the Judge’s questions.
When will the Judge make a decision?
The Judge can make a decision at the end of the hearing. However, in most cases, the Judge will decide later and notify you by mail.
What if I win?
The Judge will award you the money owed and your court costs. You must wait 30 days before trying to collect your money. This period of time allows the Defendant to file an Appeal if they appeared at the hearing. If the Defendant did not appear they can file a Motion to Vacate Judgment. The Defendant may request to pay you in installments. After 30 days, you can take action to begin collecting the money awarded to you.
What if I lose?
As the Plaintiff, you cannot appeal if you lose on your Plaintiff’s Claim. However, if the Defendant countersued and you lost on the Defendant’s Claim, you can appeal. If you believe the court has made a legal or clerical error, you can file a Request to Correct or Vacate Judgment (See Correcting Court Error).
What if I miss my court date?
If you miss your court date, the Judge may dismiss your case without prejudice. If so, you can start over and file your case again as long as you are within the statute of limitations. (See How to Sue.).
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 April 15, 2009
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