Small Claims Court is a simplified legal venue where two parties can resolve civil disputes where the damages have relatively small monetary value. For the most part, this venue is implemented to collect relatively small debts and as a resource for landlords to evict negligent tenants. In most cases, a Small Claims Court will not accept cases where the monetary value of damages exceeds $15,000.
Small Claims Courts in the United States became a part of the state level justice system in the 1960s. Justice of the Peace courts were largely viewed as obsolete, and a movement toward self-representation without legal counsel gained momentum. There is no equivalent to Small Claims Court in the Federal Justice System, but certain civil claims are regularly sent to US Magistrates for a preliminary handling. Effectively in the year 2010, filing fees have increased in most states in the US, which range from $15 to $150, based on the amount of the claim.
In most cases, Small Claims Court cases do not involve lawyers and juries. Civil procedure rules and rules of evidence are also modified and simplified. This is in the interest of expediency. Both parties are expected to be able to adequately represent themselves, though a lawyer must represent corporations. Other procedures, such as depositions and interrogatories, are not allowed. Should the defendant not be able to appear for the trial, then usually a default judgement for the plaintiff will be made. Injunctions, such as protective orders, are also typically not available from a Small Claims Court. They also tend to not be involved in family disputes, as there are separate family and divorce courts for that purpose.
A large part of Court-related television shows are Small Claims Court situations. Examples include "The People's Court," "Judge Joe Brown," and "Judge Judy." It should be noted that these are not actual cases in a court of law, but are actually cases of arbitration. Both parties have agreed to waive any particular benefit that a court of law would provide. In some cases, the Judges in these shows are retired.
In either the court of law Small Claims or the televised arbitration, there is no guarantee that the damages awarded to the plaintiff or to the defendant in the case of a counter-suit can be collected. Every effort can be made to collect the damages, such as wage garnishments and liens, but an especially uncooperative or transient defendant can sometimes avoid payment for years and perhaps indefinitely. In such cases, avoidance of payment will be reflected on the defendant's credit report.
In short, Small Claims Court is useful for small value debt collection, recompense of small damages and enforcement of contracts and lease agreements.