In Philadelphia, small claims cases are heard in municipal court. In other areas of Pennsylvania, small claims cases are heard in either district court or justice court.
The person or business that files a claim to sue another is called the plaintiff or claimant. The person or business that is sued is called the defendant.
Individuals or Businesses May Sue
Individuals and businesses are permitted to sue stores, contractors, insurance companies, other businesses and other individuals quickly and inexpensively in small claims court.
You can claim up to $10,000 in Philadelphia municipal court. You can claim up to $8,000 in district or justice court.
Cases Suitable for Small Claims Court
Small claims court may be used only for certain types of cases. Some of the most common types of claims heard in small claims court are:
- Breach of contract claims
- Property damage disputes
- Automobile accidents
Statute of Limitations
The statute of limitations is the amount of time you have to file your lawsuit after an incident occurs. The length of time you have to file a claim varies depending on the subject matter and circumstances of your claim. If you don't start your lawsuit within that time period, your right to assert your claims will probably be lost forever.
Self Representation or Attorney
Generally, corporations and unincorporated associations must be represented by an attorney but it's optional for other businesses and individuals. When the claim is for less than $2,500, corporations don't need to be represented by an attorney.
Where to Sue
A lawsuit is filed in any of the following places:
A corporation resides where its principal place of business is located.
A hearing on a complaint is scheduled when the complaint is filed. Before the hearing, the defendant will receive a copy of the complaint. The complaint notifies the defendant of the time and place of the hearing.
In the Philadelphia municipal court, the trial date is set by the court. In either district or justice court, the trial is set for 12 to 60 days after the defendant is served with the lawsuit.
Defending a Lawsuit
Once you receive notice that you have been sued in court, whether it's by summons, complaint, notice or publication in a newspaper, you need to take prompt action if you wish to challenge any part of the claim.
A notice from the court will inform you of the date on which a hearing is scheduled, and will direct you to notify the court if you intend to appear at the scheduled hearing. If you intend to defend a suit, you or your attorney must attend the scheduled hearing.
Sometimes the judge won't decide the case immediately, instead the judge may send the ruling, or judgment, to the parties at a later date. If the judgment is in your favor, you're entitled to seek payment from the losing party.
If the defendant doesn't appear at the hearing or doesn't file an appropriate response to a complaint within the required time period, a default judgment may be taken against the defendant. This means that the court may award the plaintiff whatever was asked for in the complaint.
Questions for Your Attorney
- If my claim is for just over the dollar limit, should I still file a lawsuit in small claims court?
- Will an attorney assist me with my small claims case if I want to represent myself at the trial?
- Can I sue a federal agency in small claims court?