Most people have heard of small claims court and large claims court, but how do the differences between these two impact the claim that you may have?  Generally speaking, large claims civil lawsuits involve civil claims where the damages are more than $10,000.00, or more than $5,000.00 for a tort claim (such as personal injury or property damage). If you have a claim such as a breach of contract, business dispute, real estate dispute, employment dispute where the damages sought exceed $10,000.00, then this claim must be filed in large claims court. If someone has a personal injury claim such as tort claim and property damage claim in which damages exceed $5,000.00, those claims also must be filed in large claims court.

The process in large claims cases is more involved and more expensive than in small claims court. The filing fee in a large claims is several hundred dollars just to start the case. The litigants must draft their own legal documents to file and to serve in the case (there are no standard court forms for starting a large claims action). In addition litigants in large claims cases must abide by a scheduling order imposed by the court. A large claims case usually involves a lengthy process where parties are required to name witnesses, engage in written discovery and depositions by certain times; there are deadlines for filing motions; the parties are typically ordered to attend a mediation to see if they can settle their dispute. Then, after all of the above are completed, the parties may finally have their chance for a trial in front of a jury or a judge. Because of this more complex procedure involved in large claims cases, most litigants typically retain attorneys to assist in representing them throughout this process. It can take at least 18 months or more from the start of the lawsuit until a trial finally takes place in large claims court.

By contrast, a small claims case can be handled much more quickly and efficiently, and many people handle these cases by themselves in order to save on costs. Small claims court, however, may be used only for certain types of cases, such as the following:

  • Claim for money damages where the amounts do not exceed $10,000.00
  • Claim for property damage or personal injury (tort actions) if the damages sought are less than $5,000.00
  • Eviction actions, regardless of the amount of rent claimed
  • Repossessions of property (replevins) when it is a:
  • – Non consumer credit action or the value of the property does not exceed $10,000.00
    – Consumer credit transaction (personal property that was the subject of a lease or credit from a dealer) where the financed amount is $25,000.00 or less.

  • Evictions due to foreclosure
  • Return of earnest money for purchase of real property, regardless of the amount
  • Actions on an arbitration award for the purchase of real property, regardless of the amount.

Even if someone files a claim in small claims court where the damages exceed $10,000.00, the small claims court cannot award any more than $10,000.00 maximum, plus costs.

Unlike large claims cases, there are sample forms that individuals can fill out to initiate a small claims action. The filing fee is also much less than a large claims case. One of the most significant distinctions between large and small claims court is how fast the case goes through the court system. The entire case can be filed and tried to the Court in only a few months in some instances in small claims court, as opposed to a couple of years in large claims court.

It is important for individuals to be aware of the differences when selecting which court to file in. Seeking the advice of an attorney can be helpful in making this assessment as well as assisting with navigating the legal process.