Claims that can be brought as small claims
Unless your claim is based upon property damage sustained in an automobile accident, it cannot exceed $7,000. The claim may, however, be subject to statutory damages or attorney’s fees in excess of $7,000 (e.g., consumer protection cases or certain landlord/tenant cases). In those cases, the base amount may not exceed $7,000 even though the potential award may exceed that amount.
Claims against public employees for negligence
Most claims for money damages against the Commonwealth, a state agency or authority, or a city or town that are based on the negligence or intentional wrongdoing of a public official or employee must be brought under the Massachusetts Tort Claims Act, Massachusetts General Laws chapter 258. Claims under the Massachusetts Tort Claims Act must be filed in the Superior Court and cannot be brought as small claims in the District Court.
You may bring as a small claim in the District Court a claim that is based on a government contract, a claim against a housing authority, or a claim authorized by some other statute such as the “pothole law,” Massachusetts General Laws chapter 84, section 15 for municipal roads or chapter 81, section 18 for state roads.
Time limits on filing claims
The time limit (called the “statute of limitations”) varies with the nature of the claim and applies both to small claims and to regular civil law suits. Generally, a claim based on a contract or a consumer protection law must be brought within 6 years, and a claim resulting from negligence or intentional harm must be brought within 3 years, but there are exceptions. Consult Massachusetts General Laws chapter 260, a public or law library or an attorney for additional information.