What if I lose My Small Claims Case?
Updated: Oct 29
If you've received a judgment indicating that you've lost a case, your options to proceed depend on whether or not you agree with the judgment, and on whether you were the plaintiff or the defendant.
If you lost the lawsuit and owe the other party money, and you would like to learn more about how to pay the other party, you can refer to our article “How do I pay for my judgment?”
Losing a Claim as a Plaintiff
Being the plaintiff on the original claim, you could lose a case in two different ways:
1. Losing the plaintiff's claim, which is the case you originally filed against the defendant
Result: defendant does not owe you any money on the claim
2. Losing the defendant's counterclaim, which is the claim that the defendant filed against you as part of the same case
Result: you have to pay the defendant money on the counterclaim they filed
Losing Plaintiff's Claim as Plaintiff
Unfortunately as the plaintiff, losing your plaintiff's claim leaves you with few options. You will not be able to appeal the decision of the court. If you believe a mistake was made, or that there is an incorrect legal basis in the decision, you can file a motion to correct or cancel the judgment. If the judgment is canceled, you will receive a new trial.
Losing Defendant's Counterclaim as Plaintiff
Losing the defendant's counterclaim will leave you with different options depending on whether you've attended the hearing. In this case, you are effectively the "defendant" of the counterclaim.
If you attended the hearing and lost the counterclaim, you can appeal the judge's decision. An appeal means the whole case is heard again as a new trial. Both parties may be represented by a lawyer in an appeal, and if you lose the appeal, you could pay additional costs for the other party's lawyer and/or their lost earnings and expenses related to the trial. If the judge decides that you appealed to delay or harass the other party, the judge may order you to pay even more for the other party's lawyer and lost earnings/expenses.
How to Vacate Default Judgement
If you did not attend the hearing and lost the counterclaim, that means you've received a default judgment. You cannot appeal this kind of judgment and have a new trial until you “vacate the default judgment”, that is, until you have the judgment removed or erased. You can file a Notice of Motion to Vacate Judgment. Fill the form out and file it with the small claims clerk with a filing fee.
You must do this within 30 days of the date of mailing that written on the Notice of Entry of Judgment you received from the court. You should have a good reason for not having appeared in court when you were supposed to. If the reason you did not go to court was because you were not served with a copy of the claim, you have up to 180 days after you find out about the default judgment against you to file the Notice of Motion to Vacate Judgment form. This will be usually granted if you have a good reason for missing the original hearing.
If the judge vacates the judgment, you will have a new trial. The new trial can be on the day of the hearing to vacate or on a future date, so bring your evidence every time you go to court, just to be prepared.
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.