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Small Claims Versus General Civil Court

At Phillips & Associates, we firmly believe in the importance of consulting with a seasoned personal injury attorney, regardless of the perceived severity of the accident. Nevertheless, the reality is that certain personal injury claims may not warrant legal representation due to their minimal nature. In such instances, individuals may choose to represent themselves, a process known as "pro se" litigation. As a pro se litigant in a minor personal injury case, a critical initial decision is determining whether to file your action in Small Claims or Limited Civil Court. In this article, we provide a brief overview of the pros and cons of each.

Small Claims Court


  1. Cost-Effective: Small claims courts have lower filing fees, typically up to $100. This makes it an accessible option for individuals seeking legal redress without incurring substantial costs.

  2. Simpler Process: The procedures in small claims court are designed to be informal and straightforward, allowing individuals without legal representation to navigate the process more easily.

  3. Swift Resolution: Cases in small claims courts are usually decided within three months, providing a quicker resolution compared to the lengthy processes of other courts.

  4. Limited Appeals: In small claims court, a plaintiff cannot appeal the decision, and a defendant can’t appeal a counterclaim decision. This can be seen as an advantage, as it leads to finality in decision-making.


  1. No Legal Representation: Litigants cannot have a lawyer represent them in small claims court. This might be challenging for those unfamiliar with legal procedures or the law.

  2. Restrictions on the Number of Suits: Individuals are limited to filing no more than two lawsuits over $2,500 in a calendar year, which can be restrictive for those with multiple legal issues.

  3. Jurisdictional Limitations: Plaintiffs must serve defendants within California, which can be limiting if the defendant is located out-of-state.

Limited Civil Court


  1. Legal Representation Permitted: Unlike small claims, parties in limited civil cases can have lawyers, which is essential for complex legal matters.

  2. No Limits on Suits: There are no restrictions on the number of lawsuits one can file in a year, offering more flexibility for litigants with multiple legal issues.

  3. Broader Jurisdiction: Defendants can be served outside of California, making it viable for cases involving out-of-state parties.

  4. Potential for Recovering Costs and Fees: Successful parties may be awarded court fees, costs, and possibly attorney’s fees.


  1. Higher Costs: Filing fees in limited civil cases start at $225, and there can be other out-of-pocket expenses, making it more costly than small claims.

  2. Complex Procedures: Litigants must adhere to the formal rules and procedures of civil cases, including rules of evidence, which can be daunting and time-consuming.

  3. Longer Resolution Time: Cases in limited civil courts can take a year or longer to resolve, leading to prolonged legal battles.

  4. Appeals Allowed: Either side can appeal in limited civil cases, which can extend the duration and cost of the legal process.


The decision between small claims and limited civil court rests on several factors, including the complexity of the case, the financial stakes involved, and the importance of preezrving appeal rights. It's crucial to weigh the pros and cons of each option carefully, considering both the short-term and long-term implications of the chosen legal path.


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