How to File a Small Claims Lawsuit in Pennsylvania

Four Parts:Gathering Necessary InformationFiling Your Lawsuit outside PhiladelphiaFiling Your Lawsuit in PhiladelphiaRepresenting Yourself in Court

If you have a lawsuit worth $12,000 or less in Pennsylvania, then you can sue in small claims court. The precise procedure for filing the lawsuit will differ depending on whether you are suing in Philadelphia or not. In order to file your lawsuit, you first must gather relevant documents and information. Then you must find the correct court. In Philadelphia, you will file your lawsuit in the Municipal Court. Outside Philadelphia, you will file in the appropriate Magisterial District Court.

Part 1
Gathering Necessary Information

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    Identify the dispute. Small claims courts do not handle all disputes. For example, you cannot sue in small claims for a divorce or for child support. Generally, you can bring a lawsuit in small claims court for the following reasons:[1]
    • You have a contract dispute. If someone agreed to perform work under a contract, then you can sue if they failed to do the work or if they harmed you by doing poor work.
    • Someone injured you carelessly. If someone harmed you because they were not being careful, then you can sue in small claims court. Examples include someone hitting your car or performing poor medical or dental work.
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    Gather proof of your injury. You need to figure out how much you are suing for before you can bring a case in small claims court. To sue in small claims, you must sue for $12,000 or less.[2] You should gather the following and then total the damages you have suffered:[3]
    • If there was a contract, the you should get your copy of the contract.
    • Any correspondence between you and the defendant.
    • Invoices, estimates, or cancelled checks which show the economic losses you have suffered.
    • Medical records, medical bills, and photographs which show your injury.
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    Get the defendant’s address. Once you file your lawsuit, you will need to serve papers on the defendant. Accordingly, you need to have his or her address. Do not use a Post Office box for an address.[4]
    • If you are suing a business, then you might need to contact the Pennsylvania Corporation Bureau at 717-787-1057 to find the correct name and address of the corporation.

Part 2
Filing Your Lawsuit outside Philadelphia

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    Get the complaint form. You start your lawsuit by filing a “complaint” with the court. This document contains the facts surrounding the lawsuit and includes your request for money.
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    Complete the form. Be sure to print neatly. The form will ask for the following information:[5]
    • your name and address
    • the defendant’s name and address
    • how much you are suing for
    • a short explanation of why you think you are entitled to money
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    Find the correct court. You must file your complaint in the district where the defendant lives or where the incident occurred.[6]
    • For example, if you are suing because of a car accident, then you can sue in the district where the accident took place regardless of whether the defendant lives there.
    • To find the appropriate court, visit the website for the Unified Judicial System of Pennsylvania. A listing of Magisterial District Courts is available at You can find the nearest court and stop in to ask where you should file your lawsuit.
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    File the complaint. You should make several copies of your complaint and take them all to the court clerk. One copy will be for your records and the other copy will be for the defendant. Tell the clerk you want to file.
    • You also have the option to send in your complaint by mail. However, you should still take it in personally. If you filled out the complaint wrong, then the clerk can tell you how to fix it when you stop in to file.[7]
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    Pay the filing fee. You must pay a fee to file a lawsuit. This fee will be based on how much you are suing for and how you want the copy of the complaint served on the defendant.[8]
    • If you win the lawsuit, then the defendant will be required to pay your fees.[9]
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    Serve the defendant. You must send the defendant a copy of your complaint before your trial date, which will be 12-60 days from the date you filed. There are generally two ways to serve the defendant:[10]
    • Certified mail. The court clerk will mail the copy of the complaint. When the complaint is delivered, the return receipt will be sent to the clerk as proof that the complaint was received.
    • Personal service by the sheriff. The clerk can also schedule service by the sheriff or constable. This will cost a small fee.

Part 3
Filing Your Lawsuit in Philadelphia

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    Visit the municipal court. You will file a small claims lawsuit in Philadelphia by visiting the 10th floor at 1339 Chestnut Street. You will meet with an interviewer who will help you complete the necessary paperwork.[11]
    • Although the interviewer cannot provide legal advice, he or she can help you fill out the forms and prepare to have them served on the defendant.
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    Attach documents to your complaint. If you want to use a document during your trial, then you should attach it to the complaint that you fill out.
    • Try to get a copy of the entire complaint before leaving the courthouse.
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    Pay a fee. You must pay a fee to file the lawsuit. If you cannot afford the fee, then tell the interviewer. He or she will then get you a fee waiver form to fill out.[12]

Part 4
Representing Yourself in Court

  1. Image titled Take Action to Help Stop Human Rights Violations Step 7
    Send the defendant copies of exhibits. If you intend to use a document in court and did not attach it to the complaint, then you should send a copy to the defendant. If the defendant has a lawyer, then send the copies to the defendant’s lawyer.[13]
    • In Philadelphia, you must send the documents at least ten days before trial.[14]
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    Contact witnesses. You can have people testify on your behalf if you think they would be helpful.[15] For example, if you were in a car accident, then a passenger in your car could testify that you were driving within the speed limit and the defendant side-swiped you.
    • Be sure to tell the witness the date, time, and location of the trial.
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    Dress appropriately for court. In order to make a good impression, you should plan your wardrobe carefully. Make sure to dress in a conservative style, as if you were attending a job interview.
    • Men should wear suits if they have one. If not, then men should wear dress pants and a shirt with a collar. Make sure to wear dress shoes and socks.
    • Women should wear a suit as well (skirt or pant suit). However, a woman can also wear a conservative dress or dress pants with a sweater or blouse.
    • See Dress for a Court Hearing for more information on how to look your best for court.
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    Arrive early. You need to make sure that you are not late to court. Give yourself sufficient time to find parking and go through security.[16]
    • If you don’t get to court on time, then the judge might enter a default judgment against you.[17] A default judgment is very difficult to set aside. Essentially, you lose the case simply for failing to show up.
    • You might realize ahead of time that you can’t make your trial date. In this situation, you should write to the court clerk at least 10 days before trial. Address your letter to the court clerk and make sure that you send a copy of your letter to all defendants.[18]
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    Turn off your cell phone. Before heading into the courthouse, be sure that your cell phone and any other electronic devices are turned off. You don’t want electronics to beep or ring while you are in court.
    • You also should not bring food or drinks into court. If you need to eat, then make sure to consume everything outside the courthouse.
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    Present your case. Because you brought the lawsuit, you should go first when presenting your case. You will be able to testify as to what happened. You can also submit to the judge any documents that support your case. If you have witnesses, they can also testify.[19]
    • The defendant or the judge might ask you questions.[20] Be sure to answer clearly.
    • Also don’t guess. If you don’t understand a question, then ask the judge or defendant to repeat it.
    • You should call a judge “Your Honor.” Remember not to interrupt the judge but to listen respectfully to everything the judge tells you. See Address a Judge in Court for more information.
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    Listen to the defendant’s case. The defendant will go second. He or she will also have a chance to testify. You can ask questions of the defendant and the defendant’s witnesses.[21]
    • Always stay calm, no matter what you are hearing from the defendant. Remember not to interrupt the defendant as you will get a chance to respond.[22]
  8. Image titled Invest Small Amounts of Money Wisely Step 9
    Wait for the judgment. After all evidence has been submitted, the judge will issue a ruling. Often, the judge will issue an oral ruling, although he or she may send you a written decision at a later date.[23][24]
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    Appeal, if necessary. Either you or the defendant can appeal if you lose the case. In order to appeal, you need to get a Notice of Appeal form from the court clerk and fill it out.[25]
    • You have thirty days to fill out the Notice of Appeal form. Be sure to keep a copy for your records.
    • You also must serve copies of the form on the defendant and on the judge who heard the case. You must also fill out a Proof of Service within 10 days of filing your Notice of Appeal form.[26] The Proof of Service certifies that you served copies of the Notice of Appeal on all relevant parties.
    • Your case will then be held in the regular civil court, the Court of Common Pleas. You should probably consider hiring an attorney to represent you in Common Pleas, since the rules are stricter in that court than in small claims court.


  • You have the option of being represented by a lawyer in small claims court.[27][28] If you want an attorney, you can get a referral by calling the Pennsylvania Bar Association Lawyer Referral Service at 800-692-7375.
  • Those with low incomes can look for free legal help at legal aid clinics. To find a legal aid clinic near you, visit the Legal Services Corporation’s website at

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Categories: Civil Litigation