The Sharks get lots of calls from clients asking about small cases. These are usually cases involving minor property damage or other small disputes between individuals and small businesses. In Cook County, small claims cases are for cases involving less than $10,000.00. Slightly different rules apply to small claims cases, so would be wise to check out the rules for small claims cases here. The rules in small claims cases make the process (usually) faster than a regular case.
Like most firms, we simply don’t take small-claims cases. We get it, ten thousand dollars sounds like a lot of money – because it is! However, when you take into account the cost and time it takes to bring a case, it simply isn’t worth it for a firm to get involved in a case under $10,000.00.
Since we get so many of these calls the Sharks thought it would be a good idea to lay out some basics about filing your own small-claims case:
STEP 1 – See a lawyer first – Before you do anything, you should at least call a lawyer. Or two. You might not think your case has much value, but you might be wrong, and you’re always better off if you can hire a lawyer. If you can’t find a lawyer to take your case, move on to step 2.
STEP 2 – Prepare and file your Complaint – The Complaint is the document that starts the lawsuit. Go to the Daley Center at 50 West Washington in Chicago and pick up two forms: a Summons and a Complaint. You can also find the forms at the Clerk of Court’s website here. Take these forms and fill them out to the best of your ability. Take care to explain in short and clear language how you were wronged, what damages you suffered as a result, and what you would like the court to award you. Remember to keep it simple: legalese won’t help. Now would also be a good time to take a look at the rules in Illinois for small-claims cases, contained in the Illinois Supreme Court Rules. You’ll find them here. Take a look at rules 281-289.
STEP 3 – File the Summons and Complaint and pay the filing fee – Remember when we told you that lawsuits cost money? Well, here’s the big expense with a small claims case. You’ll have to pay a filing fee of between $227.00 and $247.00 depending on the amount you are claiming you are owed. You’ll need to file your completed Summons and Complaint with the clerk, who will stamp and keep the originals and will give you copies. You can file the summons and complaint at any of the Cook County branch courthouses, including the Daley Center. Here’s a link to the locations of each courthouse. You will want to file the complaint in the courthouse nearest where the Defendant lives or where the event at issue occurred.
STEP 4 – Send a copy of the Summons and Complaint to the defendant via certified mail. In small claims-cases you can pay a small fee to the clerk of court and they will mail the summons and complaint for you. Be sure that when you go to file your summons and complaint, you have enough copies for each defendant to be served, along with an original for the clerk and a copy for you to keep.
STEP 5 – You’ll be given an initial court date. Show up for court. Hopefully, the Defendant will show up as well. If so, will likely be given a trial date. Even if the Defendant doesn’t show, you will still need to appear in court.
Those are the basics. Of course, each case is different and nothing on this page should be considered legal advice. How do you WIN a small-claims case? That’s for another post.