Cases for $10,000 or Less

If You Are Suing: Small Claims or a Limited Civil?

If you are an individual and want to file a lawsuit for $10,000 or less, you have the option of filing a small claims case or a limited civil case. If you are a business, you can file in small claims court for $5,000 or less. Note that, if you are an individual but are suing for bodily injuries as a result of a car accident and the person you are suing has car insurance that includes a "duty to defend," the limit in small claims court is $7,500.

There are advantages and disadvantages to each option, and you should talk to a lawyer to find out what is best for you given your situation. Click for help finding a lawyer.

Small Claims              Limited Civil 
Can NOT have a lawyer represent you. CAN have a lawyer represent you (but you must pay for your lawyer.
Filing fees are much cheaper. Filing fees can be expensive.
Rules and procedures are informal and simpler. Have to follow all rules and procedures required in "regular" civil cases. It can get very complicated and time-consuming.
Case is decided quicker - generally within 3 months. Cases can take up to a year or longer to decide.
Plaintiff can NOT appeal the court's decision. Either side CAN appeal the court's decision.
Cannot sue more than twice in one calendar year for over $2,500. No limit on the number of lawsuits or amount you sue for.
If you win, the court can order the losing side to pay your court fees and costs. If you win, the court can order the losing side to pay your court fees and costs BUT if you filed a limited civil case when you could have filed in small claims court, the judge can decide not to order the losing side to pay for fees and costs.
Have to be able to serve the defendant in California. If not, you cannot pursue your claim in small claims (with few exceptions). Can serve a defendant outside of California.

In addition to these differences, there are restrictions on what you can ask a small claims judge to do.

  • For example, in a dispute over whether or not you owe someone money, you can sue in small claims to recover money you paid under protest (which means you have to pay the amount and then go to court to ask for it back). But you cannot sue to get the court to decide whether or not you owe money before you pay it. This type of lawsuit, to get a judge to determine the rights and obligations of each side, must be filed as a limited civil case (if the amount is $25,000 or less) or an unlimited case (if the amount is over $25,000).

Read the Small Claims section for more information on small claims court.

If you are sure you do NOT want to go to small claims court, you can file a limited civil case. Click to find out how to file a limited civil case (for $25,000 or less).

If You Are Sued for $10,000 or Less

Click if you have been sued in small claims.

If you have been sued for $10,000 or less in a limited civil case, the plaintiff (the person or company that sued) either could not take you to small claims court (because of the type of case or plaintiff involved) or chose NOT to file in small claims court.

This is common in credit card debt or other collection lawsuits where you may owe less than the small claims court limits, but the credit card company prefers to take you to court in a limited civil case and not small claims. There are many reasons companies may prefer to sue you in a general civil court, and if that happens, you have to defend yourself in civil court and cannot ask to have the case transferred to small claims court.

Talk to a lawyer for advice and help on how to defend yourself if you have been sued in a limited civil case. Click for help finding a lawyer.

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