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What are California Small Claims Cases and Class Action Lawsuits?

California small claim cases refer to legal disputes between private litigants with financial claims not exceeding $10,000 for individuals and $5,000 for corporate entities. These cases are heard by special courts known as Small Claims Courts, which are designed to quickly resolve small claim disputes and as cheaply as possible. To be eligible to file a small claims suit, the complainant must be at least 18 years of age. Younger plaintiffs can file through their parents or guardians.

On the other hand, class action lawsuits can be best described as a group complaint filed by a representing plaintiff.

In a class-actions, the representing plaintiff may be more than one person, depending on its complexity. In most cases, class action lawsuits are filed against state establishments or corporate agencies.

Records that are considered public may be accessible from some third-party websites. These websites often make searching more straightforward, as they are not limited by geographic location, and search engines on these sites may help when starting a search for a specific or multiple records. To begin using such a search engine on a third-party or government website, interested parties usually must provide:

  • The name of the person involved in the record, unless said person is a juvenile
  • The location or assumed location of the document or person involved

Third-party sites are independent of government sources and are not sponsored by these government agencies. Because of this, record availability on third-party websites may vary.

What Cases are Heard by Small Claims Courts in California?

Some of the cases heard by small claims courts include:

  • Product liability- arises from injury by a defective product.
  • Professional or occupational malpractice—losses or damage arising from any carelessness or negligence of the skilled worker
  • Nuisance- often happens between neighbors where the activities of one of them infringe on the peace or comfort of the other.
  • Personal injury- damage or loss resulting from another’s carelessness, e.g., a careless driver caused an accident.
  • Damage to property
  • Defamation of business or personal image
  • Unpaid wages
  • Bad check or debt
  • Car repair disputes
  • Problems with Home Improvement Contractors
  • Security deposits

What is a Class Action Lawsuit in California?

Section 382 of the California Code of Civil Procedure describes class action lawsuits as legal actions taken by one or a few persons on behalf of persons with a relevant common interest. Class action usually involves a large number of persons with the same complaint against the same legal entity.

How do I File a Claim in a California Small Claims Court?

The minimum age for persons who wish to file a complaint at a small claims court in California is 18 years. Younger or mentally disabled persons are required to file their claims through their immediate families, such as parents or spouses. The plaintiff can consult an attorney for advice before the hearing, but attorneys are not allowed to represent plaintiffs at the court. Also, an individual is not permitted to file claims worth more than $2,500 within 12 months. The rule, however, does not apply to corporate entities.

An important consideration for small claim courts in California is that private litigants should consider mediation before embarking on legal action. Some disputes can be resolved through the mediation services at the local consumer affairs office, or other private mediation programs. If mediation fails, the next step would be to file a complaint with the court. Follow these steps to file a claim:

  • Download and complete out the form of interest at the small claims forms section
  • Submit the form with the required fee. Claims equal to or less than $1,500 cost $30; $50 if it is greater than $1,500 but less than $5,000, and $75 for higher claims. Where the number of claims by an individual exceeds 12 in number, subsequent filings will attract $100. All payments are to made to the clerk of the small claims court.
  • Serve the papers for a court appearance to the defendant. It is also referred to as a service of process. California rules of court approve a third-party service, that is, the papers are served by someone not involved in the case.
  • Get the proofs of the case ready for the hearing. The list may include the following:
  • Contracts
  • Bills and payment invoices
  • Standard estimates
  • Photo images
  • Graphical description of the accident
  • Police reports of the incident
  • If there are documents crucial to the case in possession of another person, download and fill out the Small Claims Subpoena for Personal Appearance and Production of Documents at Trial or Hearing and Declaration. Hand a copy of the court signed document to the person of interest
  • Prepare for the hearing by finding out more about the prospective case. Read about the different categories and how they are interpreted at the “research your case” section of the state courts’ website.
  • Invite witnesses. Important witnesses that will not volunteer an appearance can be handed a court subpoena ordering them to be present at the hearing.

Here are some possible outcomes of a small claims hearing:

  • The judge may rule that the plaintiff be compensated accordingly.
  • Compensation may be negotiated.
  • The judge may issue an order to have the Sheriff’s office to enforce the court decision.

Do I Need a Small Claims Lawyer?

A small claims attorney in California is mostly advisory. They offer legal advice on whether to proceed on a small claims suit and maximize the claim suit’s opportunity. For the defendant, attorneys can be useful for providing legal information on how to present a defense in court. Attorneys are allowed to represent clients in the court of small claims.

How do Class Action Lawsuits Work in California?

Class action lawsuits are usually filed against corporate organizations and state agencies, such as a company, a school, etc. The first step is twofold: file a complaint and a motion for group certification. For a class action complaint to be viable, the group of aggrieved persons must be recognized as a legal entity. In other words, representatives must convince the court that there is a relevant common interest among the people in the subject issue of the lawsuit. Also, the plaintiff must prove that the claims’ resolutions will lead to benefits both the court and the litigants. When the group is certified, the case will proceed as a civil lawsuit. The court gives the class members legal notice about the details of the case and the rights of each member of the class. Part of it is the right to pull out of the class and file a personal lawsuit on the case. If the case is resolved in favor of the plaintiff, the court also notifies the members to claim relief. The class representatives bear all expenses before and during the hearing. If the resolution is in favor of the class, the defendant pays all costs from then on. Many cases in California are usually resolved through settlement.

If certification is not approved, the case is terminated. In California, aggrieved members of the group can adopt the multiple litigations approach if class action fails. Class action lawsuits are handled via attorneys. The California code of civil procedure emphasizes that attorneys handling cases of class action lawsuits must notify the court of any personal interest in the case, such as a spouse or relative that will benefit from the case.

Is a Class Action Better Than a Single Party Suit?

Yes. A class action is better than a single party suit. Class action lawsuits have the advantage of saving the court time and costs of administrative processes. Due to the large number of persons involved in the case, a strong public opinion formed by the aggrieved persons can tip the case in favor of the class.

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