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What are Pennsylvania Small Claims Cases and Class Action Lawsuits?

All Pennsylvania state residents have the legal right to bring a civil action against another individual or business. Eligible persons may also file small claims or class-action lawsuits in a Pennsylvania Court. In class-action suits, a group of people brings an action against one or more parties rather than a sole individual or business. On the other hand, small claim cases are low dollar value cases that are handled by judges in the small claims courts. Under Title 42 § 1123 of Pennsylvania Statutes, these courts are the Magisterial District Courts and the Municipal Courts. The Court of Common Pleas also has jurisdiction over small claims cases and handles appeals from the district and municipal courts.

Records that are considered public may be accessible from some third-party websites. These websites often make searching more straightforward, as they are not limited by geographic location, and search engines on these sites may help when starting a search for a specific or multiple records. To begin using such a search engine on a third-party or government website, interested parties usually must provide:

  • The name of the person involved in the record, unless said person is a juvenile
  • The location or assumed location of the record or person involved

Third-party sites are independent of government sources and are not sponsored by these government agencies. Because of this, record availability on third-party websites may vary.

What Cases are Heard by Small Claims Courts in Pennsylvania?

Under Pennsylvania law, small claims cases under the jurisdiction of the Magisterial District Courts or Philadelphia Courts must amount to $12,000 or lower in damages or controversies. The Court of Common Pleas may also hear these cases. Generally, cases heard by the small claims courts in Pennsylvania involve negligence and contract actions such as accidents, breach of contract, life insurance, property damage, and personal injury matters.

What is a Class Action Lawsuit in Pennsylvania?

Rule 1701 of the Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure defines a class action lawsuit as any action brought by or against parties as representatives of a class until the court by order refuses to certify it as such or revokes a prior certification. Examples of class action lawsuits include chemical exposure, data breaches, fraudulent financial services, drug litigation, wage violations, sexual harassment, safety violations in the workplace, insurance suits, employee discrimination, and misleading advertising.

How do I File a Claim in a Pennsylvania Small Claims Court?

Interested parties may file a small claim by first locating the appropriate Magisterial District Court. A case must be filed in the county where the incident occurred or where the defendant is resident, or their business is located. For landlord/tenant claims, the case may be filed where a property is located.

Once the court with jurisdiction is determined, the plaintiff may file the claim by completing a Civil Complaint Form. This form is available at the applicable District Court or on the Florida Judiciary’s website. The law requires the complainant to be 18 years of age or above to file a small claim; however, a parent or legal guardian may file this claim if the plaintiff is a minor.

The plaintiff is then required to submit this form, along with the filing fee to the court in person or by mail. Additional fees are included for serving the defendant. Because these fees vary by county and type of action, the Court Clerk may be contacted for fee schedules and inquiries. Furthermore, the plaintiff must attach the relevant documents needed to prove the action at the time of the original filing. These documents may include invoices, diagrams, estimates, contracts, canceled checks, affidavits, photographs, and correspondences. In Pennsylvania, plaintiffs may also file this claim in a Court of Common Pleas. However, it may be preferable to apply to a district court as the processes are smoother, faster, and less expensive.

Do I Need a Small Claims Lawyer?

No, individuals do not need to hire a lawyer for a small claims case filed in a Magisterial District Court. A significant number of small claims cases heard by these courts are handled without a lawyer. Still, an attorney may assist in getting the necessary and permissible documents for a hearing. However, when the case is to be filed or appealed in a Court of Common Pleas, parties are advised to contract a lawyer’s services. This, because small claims cases in the Common Pleas Court are more formal and sophisticated.

How do Class Action Lawsuits Work in Pennsylvania?

In Pennsylvania, class action lawsuits are covered by the Class Action Law. Under this law, a class action lawsuit commences when a group of people or ‘class’ file a complaint about a party’s civil wrongdoings with a Pennsylvania court. This party may be a corporation or institution.

After filing the complaint, the class members must request that the court certify the case as a class action. For this to happen, the suit must meet the criteria outlined in Rule 1708 and 1709 of Pennsylvania Statutes. Some of which include:

  • The size of the class will not cause difficulties while managing the action.
  • The prosecution of a separate action may not create the risk of inconsistent or varying adjudications.
  • There is a conflict of interest.
  • The parties must be fairly and adequately represented.

If the court certifies the case, the class is informed of the lawsuit, and the case is investigated. The defendant may make objections about the validity of the claim at the time of certification. Once the investigation is concluded, and evidence gathered, the case moves to a judge or jury trial to determine the defendant’s liability and damages. However, Rule 171 covers conditions whereby a class action may be compromised, settled, or discontinued upon approval. Class action lawsuits are complex because they involve large corporations and a considerable number of claimants. As a result, these cases may take months to settle.

Is a Class Action Better Than a Single Party Suit?

Whether a class action is better than a single party suit depends on the injuries or losses suffered by a party. A party may be better suited to filing a single party suit if these injuries are more considerable than those experienced by other individuals in the class. However, if this is not the case, an individual may benefit from a class-action lawsuit as it is the less expensive option. This, because members of the class share the litigation costs. Furthermore, a class action is faster, and members of the class are more likely to receive compensation, even in small claims. In class action suits, the law ensures adequate and competent representation for the plaintiffs before the court can proceed. Whereas, in single party suits, the claimant is subject to steep legal fees for proper representation.

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