Deciding between small claims and limited civil

If you are an individual and want to file a lawsuit for $12,500 or less, you have the option to file either a small claims case or a limited civil case. If you are a business entity, like a corporation, you can file in small claims court for $6,250 or less. Depending on your situation, there may be an advantage or disadvantage to filing your case in one or the other. 


Small claims or limited civil

There are many differences between small claims and limited civil cases. If you are deciding between the two, you should talk to a lawyer to find out what is best for you given your situation. A small claims advisor may also be able to help you.

Summary of differences 
Difference Small claims Limited civil
Lawyers Can not have a lawyer represent you. Can have a lawyer represent you, but you must pay for the lawyer. A business entity, like a corporation, must have a lawyer.
Costs Filing fees are less, up to $100.00. Filing fees can be expensive, starting at $225.00. Depending on the case, there can be other out-of-pocket expenses.
How complicated the process is Rules and procedures are informal and simpler. Have to follow all rules and procedures required in "regular" civil cases. This includes rules of evidence that make it difficult to prove a case. It can get very complicated and time-consuming.
How long it takes to get a decision Case is decided quicker - generally within 3 months. Cases can take up to a year or longer to decide.
Whether you can appeal A plaintiff cannot appeal. If a defendant sued the plaintiff back (counterclaim), the defendant cannot appeal a decision on that counterclaim. Either side can appeal.
How many times you can sue in a year Cannot sue more than twice in one calendar year for over $2,500. No limit on the number of lawsuits in a year.
If the court can award costs and fees  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. There may also be attorney's fees. 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.
If you can serve a defendant outside California 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.


Additionally, there are some limits on what you can ask a small claims judge to do. In general, the judge in a small claims case can only order one side to pay money. Talk to a small claims advisor if you want the judge to order something else.

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Where to get more help. Review the small claims and civil case section in the Self-Help Guide. You can also talk to a Small Claims Advisor for more information or a lawyer for advice

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