There are several alternatives to small claims court that take less time, money and energy. Before you file a claim, look for a solution outside of court because you may be able to negotiate a compromise. This is particularly important in situations where the other party is someone you'll have to deal with in the future such as a neighbor, a former friend, a relative or a customer.
To arrive at a compromise offer, consider how much it's worth to you to eliminate the time and aggravation of going to court. One good approach is to put a dollar value on an hour of your time and then multiply by the number of hours you estimate going to court will take. What are the chances that you might lose or get less than you ask for?
Any offer of compromise doesn't legally bind you to sue for that amount if the compromise isn't accepted.
If you and the defendant reach an agreement as to how much the defendant is going to pay and how much you're going to accept, that is called a settlement. If you receive your settlement money before the court date, notify the clerk that the case has been settled and ask that the case be dismissed.
If the case has been settled, but you haven't received your money, you should go to court and ask the judge to continue the case until you've received your money. After receiving your money, notify the court that you want to have the case dismissed. This can be done either in person at the clerk's office or by submitting a written request.
Court-ordered mediation isn't an option in Illinois small claims cases. The maximum amount of a small claim, which is $10,000, must be greater than the minimum amount of a mandatory court-annexed mediation claim, which is $50,000, to use the court-ordered mediation program.
Arbitration When Jury Requested
If any party requests a jury in a small claims lawsuit, the case is referred to court-annexed mandatory arbitration for a hearing before a trial is scheduled. The arbitration procedure is designed to resolve disputes by utilizing a neutral third party, called an arbitration panel. Mandatory arbitration uses rules of evidence and procedure that are less formal than those followed in trial courts, which usually leads to a faster, less expensive resolution of disputes. An arbitration panel can recommend, but not impose, a decision.
The arbitration hearing resembles a traditional trial court proceeding but the arbitration hearing is conducted by a panel of three attorneys who serve as arbitrators. Bills, records, and reports of hospitals, doctors, dentists, repair persons and employers, as well as written statements from opinion witnesses, are admissible at the hearing.
At the hearing, each party to the dispute makes a concise presentation of his case to the arbitrators. Immediately following the hearing, the arbitrators deliberate privately and decide the issues that were presented. To find in favor of a party requires an agreement between two arbitrators. In most instances, an arbitration hearing is completed in approximately two hours.
Questions for Your Attorney
- What should I do if the defendant hasn't paid me after we reached an agreement?
- Are there attorneys that specialize in helping resolve small claims without going to court?
- Can I seek out and have a mediator help settle my case even though court-ordered mediation isn't available?