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Small Claims
Introduction to Small Claims
The purpose of the small claims court is to resolve minor civil disputes quickly, inexpensively, and fairly. The rules are simple and the hearing is informal. You may ask a lawyer for advice before or after the hearing but you may not have a lawyer at the hearing. The person who sues is the plaintiff. The person who is being sued is the defendant.
In the state of California, an individual may sue for an amount up to $10,000, with the exception of personal injury claims arising from automobile accidents where the defendant is covered by an insurance policy that includes a duty to defend in which the limit is $10,000. Businesses and other organizations may sue for an amount up to $5,000. A limited number of claims may be filed per calendar year under the amount of $2,500 each. Only two claims of more than $2,500 may be filed per calendar year.
Code of Civil Procedure Chapter Five sections 116.110-116.910 (Opens new window) contains the law pertaining to Small Claims Court.
Small Claims Advisor
The Small Claims Advisor is employed by the court and can explain the basic steps involved in small claims actions. Services are offered at no cost on a first-come, first-serve basis. You may call the Small Claims Advisor at (661) 868-2532 or you may personally talk to the Advisor at the hours and locations listed on her schedule.
Community Mediation
The court provides a community mediation program that is designed to resolve disputes before or after court documents have been filed. Trained mediators will work with both parties to try to reach a satisfactory settlement. It is a good idea to try mediation before filing documents as it may result in a faster settlement at no cost. Bilingual English/Spanish mediators are available. For more information, contact:
     BBB Mediation Center of Kern County
     1601 H Street Ste. 101
     Bakersfield, California
     (661) 616-5252 or (800) 675-8118 ext. 300
Special Accommodations
If you have a disability and need assistance, please ask the court to help accommodate your needs. If you have a hearing impairment and need assistance, please notify the court.
Filing A Small Claim
This is the proper court to file a lawsuit, if one of the following statements is true:
  • A defendant lives in Kern County, or, if the defendant is a business, its principal place of business is in Kern County.
  • Plaintiff was injured or personal property was damaged in Kern County.
  • A defendant signed or entered into a contract in Kern County, a defendant lived in Kern County when the contract was entered into, a contract or obligation was to be performed in Kern County, or, if the defendant is a corporation, the contract was breached in Kern County.
For additional information, either:
Fees - (click here)
If you cannot afford the fees, obtain a Fee Waiver packet from the small claims court clerk or at Judicial Council Self-Help (Opens new window)
Forms
  • In Person.
    All Civil Units are open Monday through Thursday from 8:00 AM to 3:00 PM, and 8:00 AM to Noon on Fridays. You may pick up a small claims forms packet by coming to the court. If you are filing a new Small Claims case, please arrive at the court no less than 30 minutes before closing.
  • List of Forms and Instructions - select "Small Claims" from the drop down menu and click the "See Forms" button (California Courts/Judicial Branch Website - Opens new window).

    When returning your completed forms you must provide along with the original, one copy for each plaintiff and defendant and a self addressed stamped envelope or place a note on your documents you will pick them up in will-call. YOU WILL NOT BE CALLED TO PICK UP YOUR PAPERWORK.
Your Day in Court
What will happen at the court hearing?
The judge generally allows both parties the opportunity to review each other's evidence at the court hearing. The judge may also request that the parties make one more attempt to settle their dispute. In the Metropolitan Division, community mediators are usually available in the courtroom for this purpose. For successful settlements, the judge confirms the conditions of settlement and enters the agreement on the record. If the litigants cannot agree on a settlement, the judge listens to both sides of the story, reviews the evidence and asks clarifying questions. The judge usually renders a decision, or judgment immediately. In more complicated cases, the judge may take the matter under submission and notify the parties by mail after more careful consideration of the evidence.
How much time should be expected for a court hearing?
Most judges allow about 10-15 minutes per case. However, a wait of two to four hours may be required before your case is called depending on the number and complexity of the other cases on the calendar.
Is preparation helpful?
Yes. The court encourages litigants to prepare a concise statement in advance, summarizing the reason or response to the small claims action. The plaintiff (the person initiating the action) is responsible for proving the allegations. All statements must be factual and subject to verification with objective proof.
What materials will help to prove your case?
Bring copies of all documents, such as photographs, bills, receipts,contracts, etc., necessary to prove the case. Bring the original documents and two copies if possible. The judge may ask to keep a copy for a more careful review. Put the evidence together in a logical order; this will help the judge to understand the allegations.
What happens if the defendant does not appear?
The judge generally allows the plaintiff to explain the allegations, and will make a ruling without hearing the other side.
Is night court available?
The Small Claims Court conducts one evening session per month in Bakersfield. The Small Claims Court Clerk schedules cases for night court upon request and can provide more information.
Will the court provide an interpreter?
The court does not provide interpreters for small claims cases. An adult friend who is fluent in the English language may assist. This person should be able to interpret statements made by the judge, the plaintiff, and the defendant.
Superior Court of California, County of Kern court employees are prohibited from giving legal advice per section 24004 and 68082 of the Government Code. In addition, court employees may not give advice as to which legal forms to use or how to complete the forms.
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