Judge Writing-SmallSmall Claims court in Kern County is an easy, fast solution for people who have experienced an injustice and want to have it righted in a fair and equitable manner.  Small claims cases are limited as to how much you can sue for. In California you can file for up to $10,000 for a personal claim in 2015. Businesses and other organizations are limited to $5000 and there is a cap on how many claims you can file in a calendar year. Also, you have to file in the jurisdiction in which the claim originated. For more information for Kern County residents go to the Kern County website: http://www.kern.courts.ca.gov/home.aspx?p=Smallclaims&p1=Main

If you are unsure the full amount of the damages that you can sue for, it is best to consult with an attorney before you decide to file a small claims case.

Before you file a small claims lawsuit you should ask yourself, can the matter be resolved without getting the courts involved? If the answer is no, you have the option of a mediator. You can either find a mediator on your own or when you file a small claims case, the court will direct you to a mediator just outside the courtroom. If the mediator can’t bring the two parties to a meeting of the minds, then the case will return to the court for a decision.

Advantages of using Small Claims

The advantage of using the Small Claim court system to settle your dispute is economy and speed. The costs of filing a lawsuit in Small Claims Court are much less than Superior Court.  From the time of filing to getting your judgement can take as little as two to three months. You have the opportunity to air your grievances in front of an impartial jurist who will weigh the evidence and issue a decision without prejudice. If you win your claim and a monetary award is granted, you can enforce the judgement through the courts to ensure being paid.

Disadvantages of using Small Claims

The biggest disadvantage is you are limited as to the maximum amount for which you can sue. Also, you must represent yourself. While you can consult with an attorney before and after court, you cannot have an attorney represent you. Only you can present your case. You have to be able to prepare a case with evidence and/or witnesses that will support your claim in a legal manner. Small claims court allows the participants a lot of latitude, but the rules of law still apply.

The types of cases brought before Small Claims court vary. They cover personal injury, property damage, landlord/renter disputes, property rights and much more.

Do you have a case?

You must suffer damages to be able to sue someone. The damages can be monetary, emotional, and/or physical. Did you suffer property damage – which can include injury to a pet (pets are property under the law). Did a landlord unjustly keep your security deposit? Did someone damage your vehicle? Were you the victim of a vicious and malicious campaign that slandered your reputation and caused you to lose your job? Reputation? Was there an inconspicuous hazard that caused injury to your physical self? Basically, did you suffer a loss through no fault of your own?

It’s important to note here that no matter how much you’ve been injured by someone, if they don’t have the money or assets to pay you either now or in the future, you will be unable to collect on the judgment.

How to File

Once you’ve determined you have a case you need to file it and get a court date. You can either visit the courthouse to pick up the forms or you can go online – http://www.courts.ca.gov/forms.htm?filter=SC – and find them. Fill them out as completely as possible and take them to the courthouse to file as indicated on their website. There is a fee for filing a small claims case and it’s based on the amount for which your claiming and ranges from $30-$75.

Once you’ve filed, the other party must be served by someone other than you or anyone else associated with the case and Proof of Service – http://www.courts.ca.gov/forms.htm?filter=SC – filed with the court. Service can be made by a disinterested third party or for a small fee (which is recoverable if you win) by a process server who will also file the Proof of Service with the court for you.

Going to Court

Once you have a court date and time, it’s important to be there on time. It is also important to have all your evidence with a copy for you, a copy for the court and a copy for the defendant. You will be able to call witnesses to testify on your behalf – who you can subpoena if needed. Make sure to have them there on time.

You must have evidence! Evidence can be in the form of documents, voice mails, texts, emails, video, pictures, witnesses, doctor reports… You must be able to prove your case.

Both you and the Defendant will have an opportunity to present your case with the evidence. The judge may ask you questions. Once this is done, the court has up to 30 days to send the decision in the mail.

You Won! Now what?

If you win a monetary judgement the other party is required to get the money to you within 30 days or appeal the judgement. If they do not pay you and have not appealed, you have a number of options for collection. On the Kern County website you can find information about collecting: http://www.courts.ca.gov/1014.htm

You Won, but the Defendant Appealed

This is often a ploy by the defendant to drag things out. Even so, you need to be prepared to present your case once again to the court. If you have any additional evidence or witnesses, this is the time to bring them. Appeals are heard in Superior Court and you are allowed to be represented by an attorney at the appeal hearing or, you can once again, represent yourself.

You Lost, but you feel the judgement was wrong

You can file a request to the court for a correction or cancellation of the judgement. http://www.courts.ca.gov/documents/sc108.pdf This is not something you can take lightly. To convince the court it made a mistake you will need to do your research. You cannot simply say, “You got it wrong.” You have to prove your position within the law. The court provides free help for litigants by offering the services of a Small Claims Advisor. http://www.kern.courts.ca.gov/pdf/smallclaims/advisor-sched.pdf

After filing Form SC108 with the court you will get written notice as to whether the court accepted or rejected your petition. If accepted, you will get another hearing date.

Small Claims court is a good way to settle a dispute when a loss is minimal and time is of the essence. Again, all this information can be found on the Kern County website with detailed instructions for each step of the process should you decide to use the Small Claims court as a remedy for your situation.