3 Things to Know About Limited Civil Cases in California


1.  What is a limited civil case?

Generally speaking, a limited civil case is a civil case where the “amount in controversy” does not exceed twenty-five thousand dollars ($25,000). California Code of Civil Procedure Section 85 states that the “‘amount in controversy’ means the amount of the demand, or the recovery sought, or the value of the property, or the amount of the lien, that is in controversy in the action, exclusive of attorneys’ fees, interest, and costs.” (C.C.P. §85.)

The easy way to remember this is to look at your contract. Is it for $25,000 or more? Did they fail to pay $25,000 or more? Or when they damaged my car, did it cost me $25,000 or more to fix or replace it? The general rule of thumb is if the “amount in controversy” is more than $25,000, your case should be filed as unlimited. If the amount in controversy is $25,000 or less, your case should be filed as limited.

Section 86 of the California Code of Civil Procedure contains a more detailed and specific list of civil cases and proceedings that are civil limited cases.

2.  What is the monetary difference between a small claims case and civil limited case?

Small claims court has a general monetary limit of $5,000.00. (C.C.P. 116.220.) In addition to that limitation, “natural persons” meaning an individual who is not a business, may bring a small claims action demanding an amount of up to $10,000.00. (C.C.P. 116.221.) Personal injuries related to automobile accidents are limited to $7,500.00. (C.C.P. 116.224.)

The easiest way to understand the difference between unlimited, limited, and small claims is based on the amounts demanded.

Unlimited –> $25,000 or Higher

Limited –> $25,000 or less

Small Claims –> $10,000 or less

With some exceptions, you have a choice between filing your case that is $10,000 or less in limited civil or small claims.

3.  If I choose to file in limited civil, how will that affect my case? Or If I choose to file in the small claims division, how will that affect my case?

  • Advantages to Filing in Small Claims:
    • You don’t have to hire a lawyer because only self-represented people can present claims in the small claims division.
    • It is less formal.
    • Lower filing fees.
    • Less time.
    • The paperwork is a set of easy to understand forms.
  • Disadvantages of Small Claims
    • You lose the right to be represented by an Attorney.
    • The losing side may be ordered to pay the winning side.
    • Only the Defendant can appeal a small claims case.
    • There are some types of cases that cannot be brought in small claims.
    • You have to give up your right to receive more than $10,000.
    • You are limited in the number of small claims you can file each year.
  • Advantages of Limited Civil
    • You can have an attorney represent you.
    • It is more formal than small claims.
    • Both the Plaintiff and Defendant have the right to appeal.
    • You have a higher amount that you can recover.
  • Disadvantages of Limited Civil
    • If you choose to have an attorney, you have to pay for one.
    • The filing fees are higher than in small claims.
    • If you could have filed in small claims, you may have to pay the other side’s attorney’s fees if you lose.
    • Takes more time to resolve than a small claims case.

If you are not quite sure how to calculate the “amount in controversy,” consult an attorney. 

If the other side has to file a motion to reclassify your case, it may end up costing you money in the long run. Know how your case should be classified before you file!

Disclaimer: The contents on this blog are informational only and not meant, intended, nor should be considered legal advice, advertisement, or solicitation for business. The material posted on this blog is not intended to create, and receipt of it does not constitute, a lawyer-client relationship, and readers should not act upon it without seeking professional counsel.

Furthermore, the information contained on this blog is not specific to any particular set of circumstances. All links to outside information are meant to provide further information on the topic addressed, I make no warranties, express or implied, as to the accuracy of the information contained herein or in the attached links.

Photo Credit: <a href=””>Phil Roeder</a> via <a href=””>photopin</a&gt; <a href=””>cc</a&gt;


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