When filing a lawsuit, the maximum limit for small claims court cases gets everyone worked up. After all, it isn't hard to see why this happens since you can only make a claim up to the small claims court limit.
The small claims court dollar limit exists because the small claims court is meant for the general public's everyday affairs. Even so, the exact small claims court money limit that you can sue for depends from state to state.
However, what is interesting is that the upper limit for small claims court has no rigid definition of what can be included within it. This essentially means that it is often possible to go above the stipulated maximum limit for small claims court cases.
It is important to remember that you need to have proper evidence when suing someone regardless of the maximum small claims limit in your state. You need to have proof to back up every claim for the court to take cognizance that the claim is indeed legitimate.
What is the maximum limit for small claims court cases?
The maximum amount for small claims court varies from one state to another. As of the writing of this article, here are the limits for each state:
|State |||Small Claims Dollar Limit|
|California||$10,000 for individuals, $5,000 for businesses. Cannot file more than 10 times per year for more than $2,500.|
|Connecticut||$5,000 (residential security deposit cases have no limit in CT)|
|District of Columbia||$10,000|
|Georgia||$15,000 (eviction cases have no limit in GA).|
|Hawaii||$5,000 (residential security deposit cases have no limit in HI)|
|Indiana||$10,000 (except Marion County might have a different limit)|
|Massachusetts||$7,000 (cases about property damage caused by a motor vehicle have no limit)|
|Minnesota||$15,000 (cases about consumer credit card transactions have $4,000 limit)|
|Nebraska||$3,900 until June 30, 2025 (adjusted after five years based on the Consumer Price Index)|
|New Jersey||$3,000 (residential security deposit cases have no limit in NJ)|
|New York||$10,000 in New York City; $5,000 in Nassau County, Western Suffolk County, and City Courts (excluding NYC); $3,000 in Eastern Suffolk County, Town Courts, and Village Courts.|
|North Carolina||Varies by county from $5,000 to $10,000. Call your county court to get exact limit there.|
|Tennessee||$5,000 (eviction and personal property suits have no limit in TN).|
|Washington||$10,000. $5,000 for businesses.|
|Wisconsin||$10,000 (eviction cases have no limit in WI)|
For example, California has a relatively high maximum limit for small claims cases, with $10,000 as the small claims court limit.
For Texas, the small claims limit is even higher at $20,000! On the other hand, Florida has a much lower limit at about $5,000.
New York has a state-wide maximum small claims court money limit of about $5,000, while New York City, in particular, has a slightly larger small claims limit, one of $10,000.
In 2020, New York increased the limit in all its five boroughs, and therefore that is the new upper limit for individuals (or businesses) from any of the five boroughs.
To figure out the exact maximum limit for small claims court cases in a state, the best idea is to check out the state court website for the most up to date info. For example, Connecticut has a website that provides information on cases, including their state's small claims court limit.
Can I go over the small claims court limit?
It is possible to file cases of higher value than the maximum limit for small claims court cases. However, the claims would have to be reduced to the maximum small claims court dollar limit in such cases.
For example, if individuals could claim up to $25,000 in general, they would have to stick to the $10,000 limit if they filed a small claims case in NYC.
While this means giving up on your claim for the remaining $15,000 since the small claims limit is already being reached, the suing party often opts for it because it ends up saving money in lawyer fees down the line. Besides the costs, it can also save you a lot of time since small claims courts are usually a lot faster than civil suit courts.
At any rate, you can still file cases for higher claims than the maximum limit for small claims court cases in some particular scenarios. (Keep reading to find out more about how you can get the most out of the case you're filing!)
When can you file for more than the small claims court money limit?
Usually, the fees for filing your case in court and serving your defendant are not included in the maximum limit for small claims court cases. However, these can be added to your winnings by the judge if you request them to award you the court fees and service fees.
In such a situation, the judge can go beyond the small claims court limit and award you a higher payout at the end of the case.
Another situation where you can file a lawsuit without a small claims limit is in California, where cases regarding covid rental debt from 2020 to 2021 can be filed under this cause. However, this specific type of case is limited to rent a defendant owed that was not paid between the 1st of March 2020 and September 30, 2021.
Again, in some other states such as California and MA, you can sue for double (or even triple!) the damages if your landlord doesn't return your security deposit within the period stipulated in the contract.
However, it is essential to keep in mind that you can still only claim up to $10,000 for the court to take up your case. You can then ask the judge to award you more than that based on the statutory damages, and the judge can decide whether this should be extended beyond the maximum limit for small claims court cases in your state.
Top 3 Mistakes that are preventing you from getting the maximum limit for small claims court cases.
There are many mistakes that individuals (and businesses) commit when filing a case in the small claims court, and a lot of these pertain to the maximum limit for small claims court cases. The most common of these are as follows:
Asking over the limit:
One of the most common mistakes is to ask for more than the small claims court money limit. In such a scenario, the case is rejected by the clerk, and it doesn't even reach the judge. As a result, the court doesn't even get cognizance, and instead of getting more money, you lose the fees spent for filing the case.
Not showing your calculation:
The worst thing you can do if you have a solid case is not to properly show your calculations for the claim in an organized way. If the judge feels like you're not being honest, they can reduce your claim and can leave you with less than you're owed. Even worse, this also leaves you unable to sue the same person again in a small claims court, and you would have to get a lawyer to continue the case.
Lack of evidence:
Know that it's essential to back up everything you say and claim in court. Proper documentation is necessary to support your statements. Not having such documentation can weaken your case and prevent you from getting the maximum limit for small claims court cases.
How to claim the maximum limit for small claims court cases?
The exact way to put forward your claim for the small claims limit depends from state to state, but it's possible to get to it if you keep a few things in mind.
- To begin with, know what you're owed and be sure to claim it in court. For example, if you had to pay because of someone's misbehavior or because they didn't give you what was promised to you, you are fully entitled to claim that amount in a small claims court.
- It's okay to add interest, but be sure that you are calculating it at a reasonably low rate and breaking it down properly for the judges to see it. It is essential to take special care that it can be easily understood in the way the calculations are broken up so that the judges don't feel like you're hiding something from them, which can lead to them not awarding you the small claims court dollar limit.
- You can only claim penalties stated in the contract, and even then, it is essential to break them up properly before the judge. It's indispensable that you be as transparent with the judge as possible because if you're trying to add on extra penalties, they are bound to recognize your exaggerated claims and are free to reduce your claims by any margin they see fit.
- Many people wonder if they can add up pain and suffering costs to the maximum limit for small claims court cases. In general, this is not allowed since even maximum limits for small claims court cases only deal with values that can be mathematically substantiated by proper documentation. As such, pain and suffering costs cannot be included in the small claims limit.
- While it might seem like you can include the expenses for printing the service and other such costs, you actually cannot. The court assumes that such minimal costs will be associated with the process of filing a case; these are not allowed to be included in the calculation of your claims.
- Court fees and service costs can be technically included, but it might be best to ask the judge for it during the hearing and not before it. Since these are not part of the actual claim, these are usually awarded separately and can be over and above the maximum limit for small claims court cases.
Conclusion: What to Keep in Mind
Therefore, what is essential to keep in mind is that the maximum limit for small claims court cases varies from state to state. If you want to make the most of the small claims court limit, you need to familiarize yourself with the law regarding it from the state you're from.
The best way to maximize your payout from the lawsuit is to consider what you can include in the small court cases limit. For example, while several things such as a reasonable interest are fine to add up as long as you break them up so the judge can understand, some things like printing charges for the lawsuit and service cannot be presented.
Finally, once again, don't forget to keep in mind that you don't make the mistake of claiming without enough evidence or claiming more than the maximum limit for small claims court cases in your state. Each of these would disqualify you and would only result in you losing the fees you paid for actually filing the lawsuit in the first place.