In small claims court, if the other side does not show in court, do I still have to?

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 16, 2021

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Whenever you are involved in a small claims court case, it is your obligation and responsibility to show up to court. This is true whether you are the plaintiff (the one suing) or whether you are the defendant (the one being sued). However, the consequences of not showing up differ depending on both what side you are on and on whether or not the other party shows up to court.

The Rules for Small Claims Court

The specifics of what happens if you don’t show up to small claims court will vary based on what role you are playing in the proceedings: 

  • If you are a plaintiff, or the person who initiated the lawsuit in small claims court and you do not appear, your case will be dismissed, with prejudice, and you will have no compensation for the damages you suffered. You usually won’t be able to sue again on the same issue. 
  • If you are the defendant and you fail to appear, typically the court will ask the plaintiff to present his or her evidence to prove his case. Since you are not there, you won’t be able to present any counter arguments or evidence of your own. If the plaintiff’s evidence is sufficient to create a legal cause of action, then a default judgment will be entered against you. Once a court hands down a default judgment, it is very difficult, if not impossible to re-open the case. This means you will have lost your right to defend against the plaintiff’s claims and you will have to pay the judgment.

If neither party to a small claims lawsuit appears, the case is usually dismissed without prejudice. Under these circumstances, the plaintiff may be able to file the small claims case again, as long as s/he does so within the appropriate statute of limitations time period. 

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