When you're ready to file your small claims case, bring all the information and papers concerning your claim with you to the appropriate county courthouse.
The first step in filing a small claims action is obtaining and filling out the necessary forms consisting of a statement of claim and a notice.
Statement of Claim
The clerk, at your request, will assist you in preparing the complaint form and any other documents that you may be required to file to start the lawsuit. On the complaint form you need to provide information in a clear and concise way.
The statement of claim form will tell the other party why you're suing. The form requests:
- Your name and address
- The name and address of the party you're suing
- The amount you're claiming in the suit
- Reasons why the other party owes you money
At the time you file the complaint form, you must have the proper name and address of the party you're suing. If the claim is based upon a written document, you need to attach copies of the document to the complaint form.
If you wish to request a jury trial, you may do so at the time you file your complaint.
Where to File
The next step is to actually file your forms. Small claims cases should be filed with the clerk of court in the appropriate county. You should file your claim in the county where:
- The contract was made
- The defendant lives
- The dispute or event occurred
- The county where the property in dispute is located
- Terms in the contract specify a particular county
If the plaintiff doesn't file the lawsuit in the right county, the defendant could request the court to move the trial to one of the appropriate counties. If you have any problem deciding which county is appropriate, contact the clerk's office for assistance.
At the time you file your forms, you'll need to pay your filing fees. The fees vary from county to county and are dependent on the amount claimed in your suit. The clerk of the court in your county can tell you the amount.
The costs for filing a small claims action include the filing fee as well as a service fee for summoning each party to court. If a final judgment is entered in your favor as a result of your lawsuit, these costs may be added to the total amount of your judgment.
Service of Process
Service of process occurs when one party gives the other party adequate notice of being sued by giving that party a copy of the statement of claim.
Serving the Defendant
Once the statement of claim has been completed and filed with the clerk of court, the defendant must receive copies of the statement of claim and the notice form. This is called service of process and it gives the defendant, or plaintiff in the case of a counter-suit, adequate notice of being sued. In a small claims case, there are two general ways to provide the opposing party with these forms:
- Service of process by mail
- Personal service
Service of Process by Mail
If the other party is a Florida resident, the clerk will send a copy of the suit to the party by certified, restricted or registered mail. If you serve the other party by mail, check with the clerk's office after a reasonable time to find out if the party received the complaint.
There is a fee that you must pay the clerk if you want service by mail. However, if you win your case, you may recover your court costs from the losing party.
If the person refuses to accept the service of process through certified mail, doesn't live in Florida or is a corporation within Florida, the statement of claim and service of process form must be delivered to the party by the sheriff of the county where the person lives or is located. A private process server who is authorized to serve legal papers may also serve the other party.
Once the defendant has been served, the process may continue. If service of process is done incorrectly or isn't done at all, the case may not proceed. Once the defendant has been served with the statement of claim and the notice form, both parties must attend a pretrial conference.
Questions for Your Attorney
- What is "service" and how is it done?
- Can an attorney assist me with filling out my claim forms?
- Do I have to appear in court and what happens if I can't make it?