Overview of Small Claims Rules

How does small claims court work in my state?

October 5, 2017

The small claims court process is not only convenient, it also provides court access to people who don't have the resources to afford a costly legal battle. Even so, you still must follow court rules and procedures when filing your case. And, when it's time for trial, you'll need to put on evidence, or, if you're being sued, present a defense.

The Basics

Here are a few preliminary—yet essential—questions that you might not know to ask, along with resources for locating the answers.

  • What’s the statute of limitations period for filing a case in my state? All lawsuits must be filed within a specified time; otherwise, you’ll lose the right to litigate the matter. For the statute of limitations periods for particular types of cases, such as a breach of a written or oral contract, or an action for personal injuries or property damage, go to the Small Claims Statutes of Limitations chart.
  • Where can I find the law for my state? Most states provide access to state statutes—and sometimes case law—on the state’s legislative website. You’ll find more help on the Legal Research page.
  • Where can I get more information about small claims court in my state? For procedural questions, your first stop should be your state’s small claims website. You can find the name of the court that handles small claims by visiting the National Center for State Courts’ State Court Websites page. Scroll down to your state and select “Court Structure Chart.” After identifying the proper court, go back to the previous page and click on the link provided.
Other questions you might want to consider when reviewing your small claims website include:
  • How long does the defendant have to answer the small claims court complaint?
  • Are attorneys allowed in small claims court?
  • Can a landlord bring an eviction lawsuit in small claims court?
  • Do I have a right to a jury trial in small claims court?

Preparing Your Case

Keep in mind that you’ll need to do more than just fill out and file a complaint (the paperwork that starts the lawsuit). You’ll also need to:

If you’re not sure where to start, try reading When Should You Sue?

Getting Sued in Small Claims Court

If you’re the defendant, you’ll need to know your rights and how to defend yourself in a small claims trial. A good place to start is by reading If You Get Sued in Small Claims Court.

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