What are the Steps in the Small Claims Process?

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  • Written By: N. Madison
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 09 July 2019
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The small claims process is usually straightforward. Often, the plaintiff in a small claims case starts off by checking the laws in his jurisdiction to make sure his case can be heard in small claims court. Next, he typically files a form with the small claims court clerk and pays a fee to open a case. The plaintiff may then serve the defendant with notification of the claim and the hearing date. Finally, both parties usually attend a hearing and present their cases.

The first step in the small claims process is usually determining whether a case is appropriate for small claims court. Most jurisdictions limit the amount of reimbursement or compensation for which a person can sue. Additionally, small claims courts often limit litigation to certain types of cases. If a person wants to sue his landlord for failing to return a security deposit, this may be handled in a small claims court. If, on the other hand, a person is suing for libel, he may have to pursue the case in a different type of court.


In most cases, the second step in the small claims process is filing a claim. To accomplish this, a plaintiff usually has to fill out a form he obtains from a local small claims courthouse. The form usually has blanks for providing information about the plaintiff and the defendant, including the contact information of both parties in the case. The plaintiff typically has to provide details about the case as well, including why he is filing and how much compensation or reimbursement he hopes to win.

Most small claims courts require the plaintiff to pay a fee at the time of filing. Small claims filing fees vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, but are usually relatively low. Many small claims courts accept checks, money orders, and credit cards as payment, and some accept cash as well.

A small claims plaintiff’s job may not be over after he files a small claims form with the appropriate court. In many jurisdictions, a plaintiff is required to notify the defendant that he has begun the small claims process. This is done by serving the plaintiff with a copy of the claim as well as a hearing summons. Often, small claims courts also require a plaintiff to arrange for these documents to be served to the defendant by a police officer, professional document server, or another adult who is not involved in the case. Some jurisdictions also allow for service through the mail as long as proof of service is obtained and filed with the small claims court.

Both parties to a small claims case usually appear in court for a hearing. The judge in the case listens to both sides as well as their witnesses. He may also review documents important to the case. He then goes on to make a decision on the matter. Sometimes the judge communicates his decision at the end of the hearing, but in other cases, the parties must wait to receive the decision through the mail.



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