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Feature

Going Online to Settle Small Claims a Big Hit

Los Angeles County's online tool is just one of the programs in the state helping parties settle their cases without a trip to the courthouse.
Mar 28, 2022

Roughly 150,000 small claims cases are filed every year in California, including between 50 to 60 thousand in Los Angeles County alone. By law these cases are worth less than $10,000, but they can be a large obstacle in many people’s lives.

But the online dispute resolution (ODR) tool offered by the Los Angeles Superior Court is one of a handful of programs in the state giving court users the freedom to settle their cases without going to court or before a judge.

webpage from the online dispute resolution service for small claims cases at the Superior Court of Los Angeles County

How it Works
The court’s ODR tool guides litigants through a series of simple questions regarding their dispute, and enables them to confidentially share documents and propose resolutions online. The tool offers assistance from trained mediators and information about available services from housing counselors during the negotiation process.

Once a resolution is reached, the tool generates the forms for a settlement agreement and then automatically and electronically files the final agreement with the court at no cost, and with no court hearing. Parties who do not reach an agreement within two court days of their scheduled hearing will be required to appear in court (either in person or remotely).

The court’s ODR tool is a cooperative effort with the LA County Department of Consumer and Business affairs, who provided partial funding for software development, and who provide no-cost mediation services.

“We continually seek more efficient and convenient ways to serve our communities and expand access to justice," said Presiding Judge Eric C. Taylor, a strong supporter of the online program. "Our online dispute resolution program makes it possible for Los Angeles County residents to resolve their disputes online and more efficiently by reducing the need for in person hearings during the pandemic.”

Stats from the Court’s ODR Program
Since its launch in February 2021, the Los Angeles court’s ODR program has helped resolve 600 small claims cases and 700 more are pending. The court expanded its ODR program to eviction cases in December, and so far 69 of those disputes have been resolved and 119 are pending.

The court first starting using ODR back in May 2019 so parents could negotiate and agree to parenting plans in child custody disputes. Parents working out the details of custody plans can negotiate and agree to a plan online. In 2021, the tool facilitated the negotiations of 177 parenting plans, while 83 of those negotiations got referred to mediation, where a partial agreement was reached.

Increasing Use of Online Dispute Resolution
Recognizing the interest in and potential of ODR for small claims or other cases, Judicial Council advisory committees on technology and small claims studied the issue to help courts interested in launching their own remote services and streamlining procedures. The committees analyzed existing court programs and explored other options to identify best practices, rules, forms, and funding opportunities that could help additional courts launch their own programs.

The following California superior courts offer ODR tools to help settle small claims disputes between parties online:

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