This article does not intend to provide an analysis of whether filing in Small Claims Court is advisable. Nor does this article intend to provide an evaluation of the appropriate settlement value of a claim. Rather the purpose of this article is to provide general information regarding Small Claims Court in California.
Is Small Claims Court the appropriate venue?
To determine the advisability of filing in Small Claims, you should first consult an attorney specializing in personal injury law. However, the following information may prove helpful. In general, once legal liability is established, an injured party is entitled to the following in compensation:
Past and Future Medical Expenses
Past and Future Wage Loss/Lost Earning Capacity
Past and Future General Damages (pain and suffering, inconvenience, loss of life enjoyment, etc.)
Contrary to popular opinion and many misleading websites, a general damages calculator does not exist. The jury is never provided with legal instructions that provide numeric formulas based upon special damages, such as 3 X the medical expenses. Instead, general damages are determined by the unique facts and circumstances surrounding the impact that the injury has on the individual.
If you suffered a minor whiplash injury with no lasting effects and limited economic damages, chances are it will be difficult to find a contingency fee lawyer that is willing to pursue your case. What are your options? First, try to work out a settlement with the insurance company who covers the at fault party. If you are unable to work out a satisfactory solution, you may wish to consider filing a Complaint in Small Claims Court.
The Small Claims Process
In general, the Small Claims jurisdictional limit per claim is $10,000 per party. However, claims involving auto collisions where the defendant possesses insurance coverage are limited to $7,500 per claim. Lawyers are not permitted. The forms are very straightforward and are available on line. You must first file the Small Claims Complaint with the Court. The clerk will endorse your papers and provide you with a hearing date. You will then need to serve the at fault party or parties with this paperwork before the Small Claims Hearing. For more information regarding this process and answers to FAQ’s regarding small claims, please see the Sonoma County Superior Court website http://sonoma.courts.ca.gov/divisions/civil#SmallClaimsAdvisor. Another great resource is our local law school. Empire Law School provides a free clinic to assist litigants in Small Claims Court. http://empcol.edu/small-claims- advice
If you are unsure regarding whether you should consider this alternative for resolving your personal injury claim, please contact our office for a free consultation.