Tennessee Small Claims in General Sessions Court: An Overview

From maximum dollar limits to statutes of limitations, learn about filing small claims in Tennessee General Sessions Court.

By , Attorney

What's the small claims court limit in Tennessee General Sessions Court?

You can ask for up to $25,000 in a small claims action in Tennessee General Sessions Court—the court that handles small claims matters in Tennessee. The limit doesn't apply to eviction or personal property recovery matters.

Can a landlord bring an eviction lawsuit in a Tennessee small claims court?

Yes, Tennessee General Sessions Court is the right place to bring an eviction case. It's an excellent forum for other types of cases typically brought in small claims courts, too, such as property damage cases and breach of contract disputes.

Which Tennessee General Sessions Court should I file my small claims action in?

Tennessee has many General Sessions Courts. You must choose the proper court location or venue; otherwise, the defendant—the person or company you sue—will be able to ask the court to transfer or dismiss your action. In Tennessee, you can file in the county where:

  • any defendant resides
  • where the cause of action arose
  • where the obligation was to be performed, or
  • in cases involving property, where all or a portion of the property is located.

Most courts post venue rules on the court website.

When must I file a case in small claims court in Tennessee?

You don't have an unlimited amount of time to file a lawsuit. You'll have to bring it within the statute of limitations period for your particular case. For example, you'll have six years for contract cases, one year for injury cases, and three years for property damage claims. If you don't file within this period, you lose your right to sue.

The statute of limitations can stop and restart depending on various circumstances, and figuring out when it expires can be challenging. For instance, if a minor is injured, the personal injury statute won't begin running until the child reaches 18 years of age. Learn more about calculating the statute of limitations.

Can an attorney represent a small claims claimant in Tennessee General Sessions Court?

Yes. Lawyers can appear on behalf of small claims plaintiffs or claimants.

Does the defendant have to answer the small claims complaint?

No. In Tennessee, the defendant doesn't have to file an answer before the hearing. The defendant can avoid an automatic default judgment by appearing at the hearing, and can put forth a defense then. Learn what happens if you get sued in small claims court.

Will I have a judge or jury trial in small claims court in Tennessee?

A judge will hear your case at the General Sessions hearing. A defendant who would like a jury trial must transfer the case to Circuit Court. Keep in mind that you'll have to pay additional fees to help defray the costs of the jury.

Find out what to expect at the small claims trial.

Can I appeal a Tennessee General Sessions Court case?

Yes. Either side can appeal the General Sessions judgment and have a new trial in Circuit Court. If you'd like a jury trial, you'll need to file your request within ten days of filing the appeal. You'll likely have to deposit jury fees, too.

Will the court collect my judgment for me?

No. You'll be responsible for all collection efforts. It's a good idea to determine whether you can collect before deciding whether to sue.

Where can I learn more about small claims court in Tennessee?

Most courts include filing instructions on the court website or provide self-help services. For additional resources, try Tennessee State Court's Self Help Center. You can also view Tennessee law online on the Tennessee State Courts website (Tenn. Code §§ 16-15-501 to 16-15-505; 16-15-710 to 16-15-735; 16-15-901 to 16-15-905; 20-4-101; 20-4-103; Rules of Civil Procedure, Rule 38.03.)

For detailed help with case filing, court strategy, and collecting a money judgment, see Everybody's Guide to Small Claims Court by Attorney Cara O'Neill (Nolo).

Look out for Legal Changes. This overview doesn't provide all of the information needed to file a small claims case. Also, keep in mind that statutes can change, and checking them is always a good idea. How the courts interpret and apply the law can also change. These are just some of the reasons to consult an attorney if you have any questions about litigating your case or if you aren't comfortable independently verifying the law.

Updated February 5, 2020