Sofia is a Santa Monica resident who was rear-ended by another driver. The driver who hit her gave his insurance information, but she later found out the policy had lapsed. Sofia was shocked to learn that the damage to her car totaled more than $5,000 — and her own insurance wouldn’t cover it. She turned to the City Attorney’s Office for help. We gave her information about taking the driver to Small Claims Court.

Small Claims Court provides remedies for all kinds of disputes where the contested amount is $10,000 or less, such as:

  • landlord/tenant disputes over security deposits or damage
  • disagreements between businesses and customers over payments for products or services
  • disputes over property damage.

If the contested amount is more than $10,000, you can reduce your claim, or sue in a higher court. Small Claims Court is less formal than other court proceedings and doesn’t involve juries or attorneys.

Inglewood is the nearest Small Claims Court to Santa Monica. You can file your case at the Inglewood courthouse or online. Once you have successfully filed your Small Claims case and a court date is set, the defendant must be served with the lawsuit. You can pay a fee to the Sheriff’s Department or to a process server, or have any adult (who is not a party to the case) serve the defendant. Whoever serves the lawsuit fills out a proof of service form that you must then file with the court.

After the defendant has been served, it’s time to prepare your case. You need to convince the judge or commissioner that you are owed money. Evidence might include photographs, recordings, receipts, invoices, canceled checks, contracts, and repair estimates. You can also bring witnesses to court.

Once your case is heard, the judge or commissioner may make a ruling or take the case under review. If that’s the case, you will be notified by mail of the court’s decision.

If the court rules in your favor and the defendant doesn’t appeal, the next step is collecting your money. If the defendant won’t pay, you have remedies. Some of the most common are bank levies, wage garnishments, and real-estate liens. If the defendant is a landlord, you can ask for a rent levy, where their tenants pay you the rent until the judgment is satisfied. If the defendant is a business owner, you can request that the Sheriff’s Department do a “till tap,” where money is collected from the register; or act as a monitor, where income is seized until the judgment is satisfied.

Suing someone in Small Claims Court and collecting on a judgment can be daunting, but help is available. The L.A. County Department of Consumer and Business Affairs has more info here or call them at 800-593-8222.

If you have a complaint against a Santa Monica business or landlord, contact the City Attorney’s Consumer Protection Division at 310-458-8336 or smconsumer.org.

 

The Consumer Protection Division of the City Attorney’s Office enforces the law and educates the public about tenants’ rights, fair housing, consumer protection and other issues. They can be reached at 310-458-8336 or smconsumer.org.

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