How Small Claims Court Works | Massachusetts
Updated: Nov 22
Have you been wronged and are looking for justice, but don't want to spend the time or money on a lawyer? The small claims court may be the answer for you. Small claims courts are designed to handle disputes quickly and efficiently, and they typically have lower filing fees and less stringent rules than traditional courts. Here's everything you need to know about how the Massachusetts small claims court works.
What is Small Claims Court?
Small claims court is a special court where disputes are resolved quickly and inexpensively. The cases are heard by a magistrate or judge, not a jury. And, unlike other courts, you don't need a lawyer to file or defend your case in small claims court.
How Does the Massachusetts Small Claims Court Work?
Before Small Claims Court
Did you know you have one more option before small claims court? Before filing a claim, you can send a letter demanding payment. This often allows people to resolve the dispute outside of court and avoids the time and fees associated with court. If you haven’t tried this option yet, read more about how to write an effective demand letter and how best to send it to the person who owes you money. Alternatively, you can use tools such as JusticeDirect to generate and send a custom demand letter for free and leave the headache out of it!
If your demand letter did not result in your desired outcome, you can bring a small claims action by filing a court form called a Statement of Claim and Notice of Trial. The form is available in the clerk's office of any district, Boston municipal, or housing court. Review this list of court locations by county if you’re unsure what court pertains to you. The person or business who files the claim is called the “plaintiff”, and the person or business being sued is called the “defendant”.
Upon submitting the form, you’ll also need to pay a filing fee. The filing fee you owe will depend on the amount you are claiming is owed to you.
$501 - $2,000
$2,001 - $5,000
$5,001 - $7,000
The defendant then has 20 days to file an answer with the court.
After the defendant has filed an answer (or if they fail to do so), both parties will receive notice of a pretrial conference. This is an opportunity for both sides to discuss the case and try to reach an agreement without going to trial.
If an agreement cannot be reached, the case will go to trial, where both parties will have an opportunity to present their evidence and witnesses at a hearing. After hearing both sides, the judge will make a decision.
If the defendant doesn't file an answer, you can ask the court for a default judgment against them. A default judgment means that you win your case because the defendant didn't show up to defend themselves.
How Much Can You Sue for in Massachusetts Small Claims Court?
You can sue for up to $7,000 in damages in Massachusetts small claims court. This includes the cost of any property damage, medical bills, or lost wages. If you're suing for more than $7,000, you'll have to file your case in the district or superior court.
How Long Do You Have to Take Someone to Small Claims Court in Massachusetts?
There are statute of limitations when it comes to filing claims.
You have up to three years from the date of the incident to file a claim in small claims court for personal injury and property damage cases.
You have six years from the date of the incident to file for oral and written contracts.
What Happens if You Don't Show Up for Massachusetts Small Claims Court?
If you do not show up for your scheduled court date, the judge may dismiss your case or rule in favor of the defendant.
The Massachusetts small claims court is a great option if you're looking for a quick and inexpensive way to resolve a dispute. You can sue for up to $7,000 without needing a lawyer, and hearings are typically held within 45 days of filing your complaint. Whether you're the plaintiff or the defendant, it's important to familiarize yourself with small claims procedures so that you can present your best case and get the outcome you're hoping for.
NEED HELP WITH YOUR JUSTICE JOURNEY?
The quest for justice is never easy, particularly when it comes to getting your money back. However, thanks to advances in technology, it has become easier. Quest for Justice’s first app, JusticeDirect, is the only app of its kind designed to support people without lawyers resolve their dispute and get their money back, both in and out of court.
The first step to getting money back is through a letter demanding payment from the other party JusticeDirect offers customizable demand letters for free. If the letter demanding payment does not work, then the next step is taking them to court.
JusticeDirect* will guide users every step of the way through the small claims court process by helping them:
Understand the legal process;
Evaluate the pros and cons that come with taking someone to court;
Generate small claims court forms; and,
Avoid common mistakes when filing your forms and serving notice on the other side.
*Currently, JusticeDirect can only help litigants sue in California’s small claims court.