What to Do If You've Been Sued
What to do if you are sued in Small Claims Court. If you have been sued, you are the defendant.
What to Do If You’ve Been Sued
If you are served with a Plaintiff’s Claim, you have been sued. You are the Defendant and the person suing you is the Plaintiff. You need to prepare to go to court on the date and time listed on the Plaintiff’s Claim.
Can I settle out of court?
Yes. Talk to the Plaintiff and try to resolve the dispute before going to court. If the dispute isn’t settled, you can try mediation. Our mediation services are free.
If your dispute is not solved before your court date, be prepared to go to court.
How do I prepare for court?
Bring two copies of any documents that will help prove your case. Proof includes canceled checks, receipts, contracts, police reports, repair estimates, medical records and photographs. You can also bring witnesses to court. If a witness is unable to attend they can fill out MC-030 Declaration to give to you and you may bring that to court.
IF YOU PLAN ON APPEARING BY TELEPHONE OR VIRTUALLY YOU MUST SUBMIT COPIES OF YOUR EVIDENCE TO THE COURT AND TO ANY OTHER PARTIES AT LEAST (7) DAYS PRIOR TO YOUR HEARING.
You must complete and file this form LASC CIV 278 and use LASC CIV 279 mailing labels. You will have to provide proof the other parties were sent copies of your evidence and you get this from the Post Office at the time you mail these forms.
Are there time limits for suing?
Yes. The law limits how long a person can wait before suing you. This is called the Statute of Limitations. Here are the most common ones:
- Written contract – four years from the date the contract was broken;
- Oral contract – two years from the date the contract was broken;
- Personal injury – two years from the date of injury or from the date the injury was discovered;
- Property damage – three years from the date the damage happened;
- Fraud – three years from the date fraud was discovered.
If the case against you is too old, tell the Judge on your hearing date. The case may be dismissed.
How much can I be sued for?
The most an individual or a business owned by an individual can sue or be sued for in Small Claims Court is $10,000. (There are limitations that apply. Contact us for more information.)
Choosing the right court
There are many courts in Los Angeles County, but the Plaintiff must file the case at the right court location. This is called Venue. You must be sued at the court closest to where you live, where the damage, dispute or injury took place, or where a contract was signed.
If you believe you are being sued in the wrong court file a Venue challenge letter. Be sure and send the original to the court and a copy to all of the other parties to the case at least 15 days prior to your case being heard. Click here for a fillable sample.
Can a lawyer represent me in court?
No. You and the Plaintiff must represent yourselves. You can speak with a lawyer before or after going to court for legal advice. A lawyer can only represent parties if the Defendant Appeals or if the Plaintiff / Defendant schedule a Judgment Debtor Hearing.
What if the Plaintiff owes me money?
If the Plaintiff owes you money, you can countersue. To countersue, file a SC-120 Defendant’s Claim at the clerk’s office where you are being sued. On a Defendant’s Claim, you can only sue the same person(s) or entity that is suing you. Your countersuit will usually be heard at the same time as the Plaintiff’s Claim.
You can also file your own Plaintiff’s Claim.
How do I serve the Plaintiff?
If you countersue, someone must serve your Defendant’s Claim to the Plaintiff at least five days before the hearing date. You cannot serve the Defendant’s Claim yourself. You can hire a Sheriff or Registered Process Server. You can also have someone over the age of 18 who is not a party to the case do the service.
The person serving the Defendant’s Claim must file an SC-104 Proof of Service with the court clerk. If you hire a Sheriff or Registered Process Server, they will usually file it for you.
If you are unable to have the Defendant’s Claim served, go to court on your hearing date and tell the Judge. The Judge may hear, postpone or dismiss your Defendant’s Claim.
Court forms are available at California Courts – Forms. Select “Small Claims” from the pull down menu. Forms are also available at the Court Clerk’s office.
County of Los Angeles Department of Consumer and Business Affairs. Last change: August 5, 2020.