Is there a trial in small claims court?

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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 15, 2021

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Yes, there is a trial in small claims court. However, it won’t be like the trials you see on television. Most small claims courts have very simplified procedures and are heard only by a judge. There will not be any jury. The purpose of small claims court is to allow people to bring relatively minor claims before a judge without incurring a lot of expenses in attorney’s fees and court costs.

Most people turn to small claims court to settle disputes of a few hundred to a few thousand dollars. Often times, they are landlord-tenant issues such as getting a security deposit back from a landlord or recovering unpaid rent from a tenant. Another reason for going to small claims court is collecting unpaid debts. For example, if you lend a neighbor money and they do not repay it, this would be a case for small claims court. Actions to collect medical expenses from a car accident or to recover money spent to replace personal property damage are also cases for small claims court.

If you decide to sue in small claims court, you need to research the court’s jurisdictional limits. Every state has a maximum claim limit that can range from $2,000 to as high as $10,000. If the value of your case exceeds your state’s limit for small claims court, you may have to file your case in a higher court, like a county or superior court. Once you are in small claims court, you will have the option of using a small claims attorney or representing yourself. The decision of whether to use an attorney will depend on the complexity of your case and the amount you stand to recover. Even if you represent yourself, you may want to consult with a small claims attorney before appearing in court and/or conduct research on how to prepare for small claims court.

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