Small-claims courts have limited jurisdiction to hear civil cases between private litigants. Courts authorized to try small claims may also have other judicial functions, and go by different names in different jurisdictions. For example, it may be known as a county or magistrate’s court. These courts can be found in Australia, Brazil, Canada, England and Wales, Ireland, Israel, New Zealand, Singapore, Scotland, South Africa, Hong Kong, and the United States.
The jurisdiction of small-claims courts typically encompasses private disputes that don’t involve large amounts of money. The routine collection of small debts forms a large portion of the cases brought to small-claims courts, as well as evictions and other disputes between landlords and tenants, unless the jurisdiction is already covered by a tenancy board.
A small-claims court generally has a maximum monetary limit to the amount of judgments it can award, often in the thousands of dollars/pounds. By suing in a small-claims court, the plaintiff typically waives any right to claim more than the court can award. The plaintiff may or may not be allowed to reduce a claim to fit the requirements of this venue. ‘Court shopping’—where a plaintiff reduces the damage claim amount to have a trial in a court that otherwise does not have jurisdiction—is strictly forbidden in some states. For example, if a plaintiff asserts damages of £30,000 in hopes of winning an award of $25,000 in small-claims court, the court dismisses the case because the court does not have jurisdiction to hear cases in which asserted damages exceed the court’s maximum amount.
Thus, even if the plaintiff is willing to accept less than the full amount, the case cannot be brought to small-claims court. To bring the case to small-claims court, the plaintiff must prove that actual damages are within the court’s jurisdiction. In some jurisdictions, a party who loses in a small-claims court is entitled to a trial de novo in a court of more general jurisdiction and with more formal procedures.
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