small claims court

Small Claims Court v. Court of Common Pleas – What’s the difference?

Pennsylvania has two separate but related courses to obtaining relief from the Court in civil litigation matters. One is small claims court, or what is called “District Magisterial Courts”. The other is the Court of Common Pleas.

If your matter is solely for monetary damages for less than $12,000, you must use the small claims court. However, if your matter is for something other than monetary damages, such as asking the Court to issue an injunction or some other relief, you must use the Court of Common Pleas. Now it gets a little more complicated. If you are seeking money damages of more than $12,000, you may use the Court of Common Pleas. But don’t have to use it if you are willing to settle for $12,000 or less. For instance, if your matter is valued at $14,000 and you are willing to accept a judgment of $12,000, you can agree to waive your right to use the Court of Common Pleas and take your matter before a District Magistrate.

What are some other differences?

The differences between small claims court and the court of common pleas are significant. Small claims court costs less in filing fees, there is no discovery between the parties and your matter will likely conclude in a matter of weeks or a few months. The Court of Common Pleas is much costlier in terms of filing and attorneys’ fees, broad and intrusive discovery is generally permitted and your matter will likely take many months, if not years, to conclude. While small claims court may seem a more inviting venue for a lawsuit, there are several downsides. For example, small claims court judges are not necessarily lawyers. They come from all walks of life and may have no legal training whatsoever before becoming a judge. Additionally, there is generally a limited amount of time allotted to your hearing. This may impair your ability to thoroughly present your case.

Before deciding which court to pursue your lawsuit, it is important to discuss the pros and cons with an attorney. If you have questions regarding filing a civil lawsuit, contact us today.


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