Washington District Court Small Claims Actions: An Overview

Learn about filing a small claims case in Washington District Court.

By , Attorney

What's the small claims court dollar limit in Washington Small Claims Court?

If you are a natural person, you can ask for up to $10,000 small claims action filed in Washington District Court—the court that handles small claims matters in Washington. The limit is $5,000 in all other cases.

Can a landlord bring an eviction lawsuit in the small claims division of Washington District Court?

No. Evictions aren't heard as small claims in Washington District Court. However, the small claims division is an excellent forum for other types of cases typically brought in small claims courts, such as property damage matters and breach of contract disputes.

Where should I file my small claims case in Washington?

Washington has many courthouses. 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 Washington, you can file in the district court that serves the area:

  • where any defendant resides
  • where the defendant's place of employment is located (if reasonable efforts cannot determine the defendant's residence), or
  • where a corporate defendant transacts business or has an office.

Go to the Washington Secretary of State corporation webpage for company information. Also, be aware that you might have other options, depending on your case. Most courts post venue rules on the court website.

What's the deadline to file a case in small claims court in Washington?

You don't have an unlimited amount of time to file a claim. You'll have to bring it within the statute of limitations period for your particular case. For example, the Washington statute of limitations is three years for oral contracts, six years for written contracts, and three years for personal injury and property damage cases. If you don't file within the proper period, you lose your right to sue.

Also, 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 Washington District Court?

Generally, no. However, two exceptions exist: A lawyer can represent you if the judge agrees to the representation or if the case was transferred from another court.

Does the defendant have to answer the small claims complaint?

No. The defendant doesn't have to file an answer to avoid an automatic loss and default judgment. Instead, the defendant can show up for the court date and defend the action on that day. Learn what happens if you get sued in small claims court.

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

A judge will hear your case. Washington doesn't allow jury trials in small claims cases.

Find out what to expect at the small claims trial.

Can I appeal a Washington small claims case?

Yes, you can appeal the decision under certain conditions. Specifically, the person sued cannot appeal unless the claim amount exceeds $250, and the person who files the claim (or counterclaim) can't appeal unless the claimed amount exceeds $1,000.

Also, you'll have to file the appeal within 30 days of entry of judgment. (The entry of judgment occurs when the court enters the judgment into the court records—not when the judge announces or writes the decision.) You must comply with this and other rules or you'll lose your appeal rights. So if you're confused about the process or how to find the date you'll use to calculate the filing deadline, talk with the court clerk or a local attorney.

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 Washington District Court?

Most courts include filing instructions on the court website or provide self-help services. For additional resources, try the Washington Court's small claims court webpage or the Attorney General's small claims court site. You can also view Washington statutory law online on the Washington State Legislature's webpage to view the statutory codes. (Wash. Rev. Code Ann. §§ 12.36.010 to 12.40.120; 3.66.040.)

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.