In Texas, small claims court provides a place where you can go to get back money that someone owes you. Court procedures are simple, inexpensive, quick and informal. Most people who appear in small claims court don't have a lawyer.
The person or business that files a claim to sue another is called the plaintiff. The person or business that is sued is called the defendant. The amount involved can't exceed $10,000.
Individuals or Businesses May Sue
Any person who is over 18 years old can file a claim in small claims court. A minor can use the court by having a parent, relative or "next friend" over 18 years old file a claim and later attend the trial. An association, partnership or corporation may also file a claim in small claims court.
Some entities, however, may not use small claims court. Banks and other institutions that are in the business of lending money for interest can't file a suit in small claims court. A collection agency also can't sue in small claims court. However, if you have a claim against a bank or a collection agency, you can file suit against them in small claims court.
Small claims court can't hear disputes involving more than $10,000. If the amount you are asking for is over $10,000, you can't file in small claims court. The judge in small claims court simply can't rule on a dispute for more than $10,000 plus court costs. If you wish to recover more than $10,000, you must consider another court.
In many cases, a claim may be reduced to enable you to file in small claims court. If the transaction giving rise to your dispute can be divided into parts, you can sue for damages based on some of the divisible parts. For example, if you purchased several different items in one transaction, you may be able to sue for damages to some, but not all of those items.
Money Awards Only
Small claims court can only award money. If you need an order to make someone do something or to stop doing something, other courts are available. If you win in small claims court, all you get is money up to $10,000 plus court costs.
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 disputes heard in small claims court are:
- A friend refuses to pay back a loan
- Landlords refusing to return security deposits
- Charges for car repairs that weren't made
Statute of Limitations
Under the law, there are limits on how long you have to bring any lawsuit. These limits are called "statute of limitations." To see if you have waited too long, determine how long it has been since you have suffered the wrong for which you are going to sue. The law won't allow you to sue if you wait too long. In many cases, you must bring your lawsuit within two years of when the problem arises.
Legal time limits can get very complicated. If your claim arose more than two years ago, you may want to consult an attorney to discuss your case before you file a lawsuit.
Self-Representation or Attorney
Generally, having an attorney represent you in small claims court is optional. Unlike other courts, a corporation doesn't need an attorney to file a claim in small claims court. A corporation may appear in small claims court through an employee or officer, even if the person isn't a lawyer.
If your attempts to settle the dispute are unsuccessful, you should determine whether your case is one that should be handled by an attorney, or whether you want to pursue the matter alone. Even in small claims court, a lawyer can often increase your chance of winning or advise you of opportunities to collect additional damages.
Low-income individuals may also be eligible for free legal assistance from local legal service offices or law school clinic programs.
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?
Related Resources on Lawyers.comsm
- Start the process with our Texas Small Claims Worksheet
- Next in the Small Claims series: Filing a Small Claims Suit in Texas
- Success In Small Claims Court
- Small Claims Court Terms
- Defending a Small Claims Court Case
- Visit our Small Claims Court Forum for more help