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What is a Small Claims Judgment?

Jessica Ellis
Updated May 17, 2024
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A small claims judgment is a judge's decision based on the facts presented during a small claims trial. In small claims court, a judge is empowered to award monetary damages for a variety of low monetary value cases. In most regions, a defendant can file an appeal of a small claims judgment, but a plaintiff cannot. It is important to note that small claims procedures may vary regionally, and local rules and laws should be carefully examined before a trial process begins.

Small claims court is an outlet of the justice systems where citizens can bring civil disputes that claim damages below a given maximum. In many areas, the upper limit for a small claims case is around $5,000 US Dollars (USD). Common types of cases subject to a small claims judgment include personal or vehicular injury, landlord/tenant disputes, and breach of contract or product warranty.

A small claims judgment is usually made after a judge listens to both the plaintiff and defendant and reviews the evidence. Note that if a party to the lawsuit refuses to show up in court on the appointed day, the judge may make a summary decision regardless. In many areas, both sides are required to represent themselves instead of using lawyers, though a lawyer or legal adviser may help a client prepare for the case.

Generally, a judge will make a small claims judgment based on the available evidence. While witnesses and an oral record of events may be helpful, concrete evidence can help a case far more. If, for example, a homeowner is suing a landscape architect for taking his money then refusing to do the work, it would be important for the homeowner to provide bank statements showing that his check was cashed by the landscaper, and dated photographs that show unfinished or unsatisfactory landscaping. Without this evidence, the claim may be considered insupportable, and the judge may refuse to issue damages. Keeping careful records of all transactions, conversations, and receipts can be extremely helpful to ascertaining a fair small claims judgment.

It is important to remember that a small claims judgment can order only monetary damages or a return or exchange of goods and services. For instance, in the example above, the judge might order the landscaper to finish the job, or pay back the money plus damages. A small claims judgment cannot send either party to jail, or award damages in excess of the allowed regional maximum.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Jessica Ellis
By Jessica Ellis
With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica Ellis brings a unique perspective to her work as a writer for WiseGeek. While passionate about drama and film, Jessica enjoys learning and writing about a wide range of topics, creating content that is both informative and engaging for readers.
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Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis
With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica Ellis...
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