San Fernando Valley Los Angeles Attorneys
Navigation Two
Phone Number

Entries in small claims court (3)

Thursday
Jun232016

Small Claims: When Litigating Without a Lawyer Makes Sense

Corporate Litigation Lawyer Los AngelesBusiness & Real Estate Litigation Attorney

 

 

Paul C. Bauducco
818.907.3245

 

 

 

 

Many people and businesses have disputes or suffer damages in the thousands of dollars, which they need to resolve or seek compensation for. The dispute or claim might involve the sale of used furniture or other personal property, where the buyer doesn’t pay what is owed. , or damage to a car in a parking lot by someone not paying attention with their shopping cart.

With court costs and attorney’s fees, litigating these “small claims” can be very expensive, many times prohibitively so. Law firms often turn away smaller claims, not because the claim isn’t valid, but because the cost of litigating it for a client may well cost more than the damages a client can recover.

So what options are there for people and entities when the amount in dispute or damages are “too small” to hire a lawyer, but “too large” to walk away from?

One option is to file a small claims action pursuant to the “Small Claims Act”, Code of Civil Procedure §§ 116.110 to 116.950. Generally, the Small Claims Act allows an entity to file a claim with a demand of up to $5,000, and an individual to file a claim with a demand of up to $10,000.

Filing fees are low: $30 for claims up to $1,500, $50 for claims between $1,500 and $5,000, and $75 for claims between $5,000 and $10,000. In the higher courts filing fees alone are many hundreds of dollars. The Court will serve your claim by mail on each named defendant for $15 per service.

In addition to the limitations on the amount of the claim a person or entity may pursue in small claims actions, you have to represent yourself. No lawyers are allowed for either party in the case. Also, you cannot sue more than twice in a calendar year for over $2,500.

Small claims cases are presented to a judge. There is no jury. You will be responsible for preparing and presenting your case, including documents and witness testimony, but you will be saving money by not having to pay an attorney. The Superior Court and California Department of Consumer Affairs each have detailed websites with instructions on how to file and try your small claims action. Also, many courts have information and staff onsite who can give you guidance on filing and preparing your case.

Small Claims Save Time

Small claims are normally tried within weeks or a few months of filing, compared to the higher courts where a trial may be set years after the case is filed. Small claims trials can be set during the week and, where the court is larger, on at least one night or Saturday a month. The court you file your small claims in must be located in the county where an individual defendant lives or an entity defendant has its business or office.

If a plaintiff loses a small claims action, there is no appeal. However, if the defendant loses, he/she/it has the right to appeal the judgment. The appeal is heard in the Superior Court “de novo”, meaning the whole matter is tried over again as if the prior hearing never happened. Also, on appeal, the parties have the right to be represented by a lawyer.

Summary of Benefits of Small Claims Actions

-Low filing fees

-Service of the complaint by the court

-No attorney’s fees

-Early trial date

Limitations of Small Claims Actions

-$5,000 claim limit for entities

-$10,000 claim limit for individuals

-Limit of two claims of $2,500 or more per year

-A “de novo” appeal can be filed by a losing “defendant”

Small claims actions give individuals and businesses a practical alternative to the choices of expensive litigation or walking away from a claim.

 

Paul C. Bauducco is the Chair of our Business Litigation Practice Group

 

Disclaimer:
This Blog/Web Site is made available by the lawyer or law firm publisher for educational purposes only, to provide general information and a general understanding of the law, not to provide specific legal advice. By using this blog site you understand there is no attorney client relationship between you and the Blog/Web Site publisher. The Blog/Web Site should not be used as a substitute for obtaining legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your state.
Wednesday
Dec262012

What to Do When a Claim is too Small to Hire a Lawyer

Corporate Litigation Lawyer Los AngelesBusiness Litigation  

 

Paul C. Bauducco
818.907.3245

Many people and companies have disputes or potential lawsuits involving damages in the thousands, or tens of thousands of dollars. While these claims are important, they are often too small for the party to hire a lawyer to file an action.

I have often explained to potential clients why a claim for several thousands of dollars, while a significant sum, was not large enough to justify hiring a lawyer to litigate, since the costs and attorney’s fees they would pay would be far greater than any judgment they might win.

Fortunately, there is an alternative other than walking away from the claim. The California Legislature has provided for Small Claims Courts to resolve such disputes quickly and inexpensively.

In Small Claims Court a person or company can quickly bring a claim to trial without lawyers, who may not represent either party; and without expensive pre-trial motions and discovery. However, the damages which can be claimed in the Small Claims Courts are limited.

In most cases, an individual can seek damages up to $10,000, while a corporation or business is limited to damage claims of $5,000. If a party’s claim is worth more than the allowable damages, the party can still bring a small claims action, but the party’s damage award may not exceed the maximum damage award allowed under the statute. Filing fees for a small claims case range from $30.00 (claims up to $1,500) to $75 (claims of $5,000 to $10,000).

The rules of evidence and other legal formalities do not apply in Small Claims Court, since there are no lawyers involved. The parties tell their stories -- presenting their witnesses, documents and other evidence to a judge, as there are no jury trials.

The Los Angeles Superior Court has an excellent website explaining the small claims process, fees, service of pleadings, etc.

Small Claims Court is a very useful tool when a claim is important, but not large enough to hire a lawyer.

 

Paul C. Bauducco is the Chair of our Business Litigation Practice Group. Contact him via email: pbauducco@lewitthackman.com.

 

Disclaimer:
This Blog/Web Site is made available by the lawyer or law firm publisher for educational purposes only, to provide general information and a general understanding of the law, not to provide specific legal advice. By using this blog site you understand there is no attorney client relationship between you and the Blog/Web Site publisher. The Blog/Web Site should not be used as a substitute for obtaining legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your state.
Tuesday
Feb072012

California Small Claims Court: An Effective Tool for Smaller Personal Injury Cases

Personal Injury Attorney 

by David B. Bobrosky
(818) 907-3254

 

Insurance companies are manipulating the civil justice system, and most people don’t have a clue that it’s happening.  

For years insurers have complained about the alleged “frivolous lawsuits” that are clogging the system.  But in reality, they are to blame for much of it in their efforts to discourage all claims no matter how fair or reasonable. 

 

Insurance Claims Process – The Unfair Game

 

Insurance companies realize that they can make it so expensive to litigate a smaller case that it can be cost prohibitive.  So rather than offer a reasonable settlement on cases they know deserve it, insurance companies refuse to offer anything, or will low ball claimants with offers less than the reasonable medical expenses they’ve incurred.  

Many times claimants, who would have settled for just paying the medical bills or slightly more, resort to seeking counsel. Once in litigation, insurance companies have their in-house counsel grind the cases and force the claimants all the way through written discovery, depositions and ultimately trial.  At that point, litigation costs usually exceed what claimants get from a jury.

This is where small claims court can be the equalizer.

Small Personal Injury Claims Advice

 

We get several calls per month pertaining to mild injuries suffered in car accidents.  Many times they are neck or back strains that have healed with a few months of physical therapy or chiropractic treatment.  These cases are just too small for our firm to handle.  In fact, because of insurance companies, they are becoming too small for most attorneys to handle.

We have advised many of our clients that they will be better off filing actions in small claims court.  This is where claimants can level the playing field against the biggest defendants without having to incur significant costs and attorney fees. 

Heather Peters proved this recently when she took Honda to small claims court over allegations that the automaker misrepresented the fuel economy of the Honda Civic Hybrid.  

Rather than participating in a class action suit that would have yielded her about $100 plus rebates toward a new car, Peters went her own way. She received an award of just under $10,000 – much more than participants in the class action case – in a California small claims court

There are many other advantages to small claims court: 

  • No attorneys are allowed.  Therefore, everyone is equal. 

  • Costs of pursuing claims are thousands of dollars less than a traditional Superior Court action. 

  • Cases are often heard within a couple of months, compared to more than a year for an average Superior Court case.

  • Rules of evidence are relaxed.  For the most part, claimants can just ‘tell their story.’ 

  • Cases are decided by Judges, Court Commissioners or Volunteer Judges, rather than angry jurors who do not want to be on jury duty.

  • The maximum award for bodily injury claims where the defendant is insured is $7,500.  The maximum award for most other individual claims recently increased to $10,000.

Small claims can be very effective in personal injury cases.  When litigation will be cost prohibitive, I advise the client of the pros and cons of small claims court.  If they choose to go to small claims court, I often times guide them through the process and help them prepare for their hearing.  

In every case I’ve helped an injured party, a reasonable award has been obtained.  Often times the award is as high, or higher, than a jury would award – with much less time, money and aggravation spent.  Thus, this leaves the client with more money in his or her pocket. 

California Small Claims Appeals: Insurance Companies Prolonging the Litigation 

 

Of course, reasonable, efficient awards are not good enough for insurance companies, so  they appear to appeal every small claims award in favor of a claimant – no matter how fair or reasonable.

A defendant who loses a case is entitled to one appeal of a small claims matter.  The appeals are heard by Superior Court judges, and attorneys are allowed in these proceedings. 

An appeal is still advantageous, however, compared to full blown litigation. Appeals are usually heard within 45 days, and depending on the judge can be more informal than a traditional court trial. For a basic personal injury matter, the appeals are often completed in less than a day. Even if an attorney must be hired, it is much cheaper to do so for a small claims appeal than full litigation.

In the appropriate case, small claims court can be a very effective tool for consumers.  It is a place where David can truly slay Goliath, and should be used more often.

David B. Bobrosky is a Los Angeles Personal Injury Attorney at our Firm. Contact him at dbobrosky@lewitthackman.com, 818.990.2120.

 

 
Disclaimer:
This Blog/Web Site is made available by the lawyer or law firm publisher for educational purposes only, to provide general information and a general understanding of the law, not to provide specific legal advice. By using this blog site you understand there is no attorney client relationship between you and the Blog/Web Site publisher. The Blog/Web Site should not be used as a substitute for obtaining legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your state.

 

 

LEWITT HACKMAN | 16633 Ventura Boulevard, Eleventh Floor, Encino, California 91436-1865 | 818.990.2120