Find out if you’re eligible to file a small claim in Massachusetts
Filing a case in small claims court can be a quick and affordable way to resolve certain legal disputes asking for $7,000 or less. However, not all types of claims can be brought to small claims court. There are also time limits on when claims must be filed. This article will explain what kinds of cases are eligible for small claims court in Massachusetts and what deadlines apply.
What Claims Can Be Brought to Small Claims Court?
Financial limits on small claims
In Massachusetts, small claims courts handle cases asking for damages of $7,000 or less. This limit applies to the amount of actual damages sought, excluding any request for statutory damages or attorney’s fees.
$7,000 limit in Massachusetts
The base amount claimed cannot exceed $7,000. However, the total judgment may end up being more than $7,000 if statutory triple damages or attorney’s fees are awarded.
Exceptions for statutory damages
While the actual damages claimed cannot be more than $7,000, cases seeking statutory triple damages under consumer protection laws or certain landlord/tenant cases may result in judgments over $7,000.
Claims against public employees
Most claims against government entities or employees based on negligence or wrongdoing must be filed under the Massachusetts Tort Claims Act in Superior Court, not small claims court.
Requirements of the Tort Claims Act
Claims against the state, municipalities, or public employees for negligence or intentional harm generally must follow the procedures of the Tort Claims Act, M.G.L. c. 258. These cases cannot be filed as small claims.
Exceptions for certain government claims
However, claims against government entities based on contracts or authorized by other statutes can be filed as small claims. Examples include suits against housing authorities or “pothole claims” under M.G.L. c. 84, s. 15 or c. 81, s. 18.
Time Limits for Filing Small Claims
Statutes of limitations set legal deadlines for filing different types of cases. These limits apply to both small claims and regular civil lawsuits.
6 years for contracts and consumer protection
In Massachusetts, claims involving contracts, consumer protection, fraud, or similar matters must be filed within 6 years of the alleged violation.
3 years for negligence and intentional harm
Claims involving negligence, personal injury, or other intentional harms must be filed within 3 years of the incident.
Some exceptions apply
There are exceptions to these time limits, such as for minors or discovery of latent injuries. See M.G.L. c. 260 or consult an attorney for more information.
- Small claims court handles cases seeking $7,000 or less in Massachusetts, with some exceptions.
- Claims against government entities or employees often must be filed under the Tort Claims Act.
- Time limits apply for filing contract, consumer protection, negligence and other common law claims.
Resources for more information
What is the maximum amount that can be claimed in small claims court?
In Massachusetts, the maximum amount that can be claimed in small claims court is $7,000 in actual damages. Total judgments can exceed $7,000 if statutory triple damages or attorney’s fees are awarded.
Can I sue the government in small claims court?
Lawsuits against the state, municipalities, or government employees for negligence or intentional harm generally cannot be filed in small claims court. They must follow the Massachusetts Tort Claims Act procedures.
How long do I have to file a small claim based on a contract dispute?
For contract disputes and many other common law claims in Massachusetts, small claims cases must be filed within 6 years of the alleged breach or violation.
What if my claim is against a landlord?
Landlord/tenant claims authorized by statute, such as security deposit disputes, may be filed in small claims court even if they exceed $7,000 or involve triple damages. Consult an attorney to be sure your claim is eligible.
What is the time limit for filing a small claim of negligence?
In Massachusetts, small claims alleging negligence, personal injury, or other intentional harms must be filed within 3 years of the incident. There are some exceptions, like for minors or latent injuries.