Before you file a small claims suit, consider the time, effort and expense required to assert your claim. The amount owed or dollar value of property may not exceed the maximum amount of $5,000.
Make sure that you have some proof of the debt such as a receipt, note, bill of sale, warranty or a witness. If at all possible, try to settle your dispute out of court. When a reasonable agreement can't be reached, a claim may be filed.
To start a small claim, the plaintiff must file a claim form in district court. Before you file the form, make sure you have the correct name and address of the defendant.
The following information is required on the form:
- Your name and address
- The address where the defendant can be served
- The amount of money being claimed or a description of the property to be recovered
- A brief description of why the plaintiff believes the defendant owes the amount of money or property claimed
- Notification to the defendant stating that he or she must answer the lawsuit upon receipt of the complaint.
The filing fee is $25 plus the plaintiff must pay the cost of sending the papers to the defendant by certified mail, which is $8.34. For service by the sheriff's office, you must pay the $25 filing fee plus $50 for each person to be served.
If you want to use a process server, contact the court clerk's office. If you win the case, you can recover the court costs from the defendant.
Where to File
You can file a lawsuit in the county in which a defendant currently resides or in the county where the defendant was to perform an obligation, such as carry out a contract. When the action is for damage to personal property, you can file a lawsuit in the county in which the damage occurred or in the county where the defendant currently resides.
Notice to Defendant
The defendant may be served by:
- Certified mail
- Process server
The hearing date is set by the court.
The defendant must file an answer to the plaintiff's claim within 20 days or you case is eligible for a default judgment and a default hearing will be held.
A default hearing is held on the scheduled trial date. At the hearing, the judge will enter the judgment as long as you have the necessary proof to support your claim. If for any reason service isn't made upon the defendant by certified mail, contact the clerk for alternate service. The defendant must be served within 120 days or your case may be dismissed.
If the defendant believes the plaintiff owes money to him or her, the defendant should state why money is owed and how much in the answer. This is called a counterclaim.
Questions for Your Attorney
- What is "service" and how is it done?
- Can an attorney assist me with filling out my claim forms?
- What should I do if I can't make the court date?