What Types of Cases are Heard in Small Claims Court

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Small claims courts hear a number of types of cases in which people, businesses or government agencies have disputes about money.  In California, the amounts of money are $10,000 or less if they are filed by individuals or sole proprietorships -- or $5,000 or less if filed by other types of businesses or by government agencies.

Small claims courts can also order a defendant to do something (or stop doing something) -- as long as a claim for money is part of the lawsuit. For example, if a person is suing to get back the lawn mower he or she loaned to a neighbor, the court can order the return of the mower, or payment for the mower if it is not returned as ordered.

Examples of other disputes that might be resolved in small claims court are:

  • You lent money to a friend, and he or she refuses to re-pay it.
  • Your store sold a person a dishwasher on credit, and he or she stopped making the payments.
  • Your former landlord refuses to return the security deposit you paid.
  • Your tenant caused damage to the apartment in an amount that exceeded the security deposit.
  • You were cheated by the seller of a car, and want to cancel the purchase and get your down payment back.
  • Someone’s careless behavior injured you or damaged your property (including an animal) causing you financial loss.
  • You were injured or your property was injured by a defective product.
  • You were harmed (usually financially) because a professional you hired did not use the ordinary skills of members of that profession.
  • You want a neighbor to do something – or stop doing something -- that disturbs the quiet enjoyment of your home and if they will not, they should pay something for the time that they disturbed you.

Lawyers call these reasons to start a lawsuit “causes of action.”  In all courts these “causes” will be covered by tort law or by contract law.

NOTE: Before you can file a claim in court against a government agency (“public entity”), you have to follow that agency’s claim procedures.  For more information, click here.



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