DIFFICULTY: Legal help may be required depending on the complexity of the case.
Initial Filing Fee: Fee varies by jurisdiction.
In Illinois, cases in which a Plaintiff (the person suing) requests monetary damages from a Defendant (the person being sued) are categorized into two areas based on the amount of damages in the case. The first are LM cases, which involve claims between $10,000 and $50,000. The second are L cases, which involve all cases in excess of $50,000. The main difference for these cases is that L cases generally have a higher filing fee than LM cases. Unlike small claims cases, civil court cases are considerably more involved in that they allow for discovery , require numerous court appearances to resolve issues and for the judge to check in on the status of the case. In addition, a civil case is resolved through a jury trial or a bench trial depending on what option the Plaintiff selects.
Step 1: File a Complaint
File a complaint at your local court’s circuit clerk’s office. Although there a number of online resources providing templates on how to structure the legal documents required to start the civil suit process, Illinois does not offer standard forms available to the public. If you feel uncertain about your ability to prepare these documents consult a private attorney or search for a self-help legal clinic or legal aid service in your area. If you are the person filing the suit, list yourself as the Plaintiff. The party you are suing is called the Defendant. List the amount of money you request as damages and the factual reasons for why you are owed the money. Also, keep in mind that your complaint must state a recognized cause of action, in other words a recognized basis for you to recover money. If it does not comply with this requirement, your case may be thrown out of court. Lastly, you will indicate if you want a jury trial or not. You may select a six person or twelve-person jury.
After you have prepared the necessary documents, bring the original signed copy of your Complaint and Summons to the Circuit Clerk’s office at your county’s courthouse. At this point, a case file will be started, and you will need to pay the filing fees. After you have received the official file stamped documents back from the Circuit Clerk, it will be your responsibility to make sure the summonses and a copy of the complaint are served by a process server on all parties.
Step 2: Attend all Court Hearings
Check for your assigned court date once you receive notification that all parties have received a summons and complaint. Usually, the process server will provide you notification that the parties have been served. It is your responsibility to make sure that the proof of service is included in the Court file. This can be done by simply mailing or hand delivering a copy of the proof of service to the Court. After the Court receives notice that the parties have been properly served a Court date is normally scheduled.
Step 3: Conduct Discovery
Make requests of information that the defendant will present at trial. You will also be required to comply with any requests made by the defendant as to what information you will be presenting at trial. Discovery requests are made in a specific format. Since Illinois does not provide discovery forms to the public you will need to consult an attorney or a free legal clinic for assistance in preparing these documents.
Step 4. Prepare your Case for Trial
Keep in mind that the evidence you present in court must be more convincing than the other side’s evidence. To accomplish this think about how you are going to prove the defendant owes you money. Start by making a detailed list of what happened so that the facts are clear in your mind. Gather all written information and paperwork that pertains to the situation. You will also be required to disclose all witnesses and the basis of their testimony to the other party before trial.
Step 4: Collecting the Judgment (If You Win)
If the Court rules in your favor ask the court to include court costs and any money you spent as part of the settlement. The court can require reimbursement for such fees as: the money paid to file the action, the cost to have the summons and complaint mailed or personally served, and any attorneys’ fees. A judgment will be entered in court stating what the opposing party owes you within 30 days of the court’s decision.