What are small claims courts?

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 16, 2021

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Small claims courts are designed to handle disputes between individuals, or an individual making a claim against a business or other entity. The amount of money involved is relatively “small” in terms of the cases courts usually decide. Most small claims courts do not have jury trials, but are simplified proceedings heard and decided by a judge.

There is usually a limit on the value that can be heard in small claims courts. The precise amount varies by state and municipality, so check with the court in your area. However, small claims courts typically can hear disputes that involve amounts ranging from several hundred dollars to $10,000 or more.

Many small claims cases are landlord-tenant disputes involving rent and security deposits. Others revolve around debts between individuals and between individuals and small businesses. In some states, small claims courts can also handle minor disputes between individuals and government agencies. Family and probate issues are not heard in small claims courts, but rather reserved for special family and estate courts.

In most states, you have to be 18 years of age or older to file a case in small claims court. To file a complaint, you will need to visit the court in your county or municipality to obtain a small claims form. Fill out the form, explaining your dispute in the greatest detail possible. After submitting the claims form, you will be required to pay a filing fee and receive a court date.

If you are considering filing in small claims court, review some of our articles on preparing a small claims case, or contact a small claims attorney. You can also refer to this list of links to access information specific to your state to learn about small claims dispute limits and jurisdiction.

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