DIFFICULTY: Legal help not required
Initial Filing Fee: Fee varies by jurisdiction
Small claims court in Illinois is primarily used to handle claims where the maximum judgment is no more than $10,000, plus costs. Small claims court is structured in a manner that makes it easier for litigants who do not have a lawyer to bring their claims to court. Normally, small claims court is more informal in that it is more forgiving of mistakes in preparing legal documents and there is normally not a process of discovery so that cases may be resolved quickly.
Step 1: File a Small Claims Complaint
Go to the courthouse and obtain a blank small claims complaint form from the circuit clerk. The circuit clerk will supply you with the required forms (a summons and a complaint form) to begin the case. Fill out the Complaint and Summons. If you are the person filing the suit, list yourself as the Plaintiff. The party you are suing is called the Defendant. Make sure you have the correct name and address of the Defendant. List the amount of money you are requesting as damages. Include a brief explanation about why you are suing the defendant After you have prepared the 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. Prepare your Case for the Small Claim Hearing.
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.
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 judgment. A judgment will be entered in court stating what the opposing party owes you. In many cases, the opposing party will pay the judgment immediately.