If someone owes you only a few hundred or a few thousand dollars, going through the process of filing a formal lawsuit and suing them may not be worth it. But you can still take them to small claims court -- a scaled-down version of court where a judge will briefly listen to both sides of the story and make a ruling. As simple as the small claims court process is meant to be, however, most people have a few questions about it. Here are the answers.
1. How much can you sue for?
In other words, what is the claim limit for cases brought to small claims court? The limit actually varies by state and by county. It's common for the limit to be about $3,000 or $5,000. Call your county court to find out the specific limit in your area. If your claim exceeds the limit, there may be a way to split it up into two claims. For example, if a tenant owes you $4,000 in back rent and the court limit is $3,000, you may be able to separately sue them for $2,500 rent from 2018 and $1,500 rent from 2019.
2. Do you need a lawyer to represent you?
Many people in small claims court end up representing themselves, simply because this is the most cost-effective route. If you are suing someone for $300, you'd owe a lawyer more than that to work on your case, so representing yourself makes sense. For slightly larger claims close to the $3,000 or $5,000 limit, however, it absolutely makes sense to have a lawyer represent you in small claims court. They will take the burden off of you and help ensure you win the case.
3. What happens if you win?
If you win the case, the person you are suing will be demanded to give you the money you are owed. However, this does not 100% guarantee that you will get the money. If the person does not have the money to give you — such as if they are unemployed or broke — then you will not get paid. This is something to consider before filing your case. If the person you're thinking of suing does not have any assets, suing them may not be worthwhile.
If you have any lingering questions about small claims court, reach out to your local court office or an attorney.