Tag Archives: small claims

California Small Claims Court Trends and Statistics

Small Claims Court Gavel

Small Claims Court Gavel

A while back, the California Judiciary released their annual report regarding case filings.  Relevant to this site, of course are the small claims court statistics.  It’s interesting to note that over the past decade there has been a general downward trend (from 1999-00 through 2006-07).  In the recent years, the numbers have remained somewhat consistent, fluctuating within about 6,000 of each other.

Here are the statistics for the previous ten years:

  • 1999-2000–320,754
  • 2000-2001–308,466
  • 2001-2002–319,165
  • 2002-2003–315,148
  • 2003-2004–284,096
  • 2004-2005–256,086
  • 2005-2006–236,526
  • 2006-2007–224,485
  • 2007-2008–227,733
  • 2008-2009–232,378

We think the increase in 2007-2008 and 2008-2009 is directly correlated to the state of the economy.  Sure foreclosures are up, but times are difficult for everyone (from people struggling to pay credit cards, rent, or other things.  Unfortunately, we thunk that when the 2009-2010 data is released, the number will be higher than the 232.378 we see for 2008-2009.

Looking at the appeals side, we’ve got data (that only goes back to 2003-2004).  Here’s our appeals data:

  • 2003-2004–10,793
  • 2004-2005–9,640
  • 2005-2006–9,081
  • 2006-2007–8,700
  • 2007-2008–9,031
  • 2008-2009–9,206

So why are we looking at this information?  Simple by dividing the number of small claims appeals by the number of cases for the year, we get the percentage of cases that are appealed.  Here’s the breakdown by year:

  • 2003-2004–3.79%
  • 2004-2005–3.76%
  • 2005-2006–3.83%
  • 2006-2007–3.87%
  • 2007-2008–3.96%
  • 2008-2009–3.96%

So, if you win, chances are good there won’t be an appeal by the defendant.

Representation in California Small Claims Court

Can Someone Else Represent Me in Small Claims Court in California?

The short answer is no.  The long answer is maybe.  In California you may only be represented by someone else if you are under eighteen or have been declared mentally incompetent by a court.  In these two situations you may be represented by a guardian ad litem.  A guardian ad litem is a legal term for a person who has been appointed by the court to take care of someone (usually a minor-someone under eighteen or who has been declared mentally incompetent by a court).  Note: If you are under eighteen but have been legally emancipated, you may represent yourself.

For those of you who are shy and introverted, this sounds like a huge barrier to your case.  However, the opposite is all true–the Defendant cannot hire an attorney to represent them.  The defendant must represent himself/herself in front of the court.

If the court decides that you are unable to properly present your claim or defense for any reason, the court may allow another person to assist you–however this person may NOT be an attorney.

The only time you will face an attorney in small claims court is if you are suing an attorney or law firm (as they are entitled to represent themselves).  Thus, don’t think that by bringing a small claims court case you will be facing an attorney.

There are a few exceptions to the rule that you must represent yourself:

  • If you are a business owner, you may be represented by a regular employee if the claim can be proved with account information and the regular employee has knowledge of that account
  • If you are a partnership, you may be represented by one of the partners.
  • If you are a corporation, you may be represented by an employee, officer, or director but ONLY if they have not been hired to represent the corporation.
  • If you are in the military, you may be represented by another person.  You will need to submit to the court information in the form of declarations which support your case.  These declarations should also assert that:
  1. You are serving on active duty in the armed forces
  2. You were assigned to your duty station after the case was started
  3. Your assignment lasts for more than six months.

What Role Would a Lawyer Have In My Small Claims Court Case?

In California, you cannot have a lawyer represent you in court.  You may consult an attorney to advise and assist you before or after you file a claim.  And based on the nature and complexity of your case, that may be an option you want to exercise.  However, fees charged by a lawyer are normally not recoverable as court costs or damages.