In Illinois, the small claims court is a place for the speedy trial of lawsuits seeking $10,000 or less. Filing and pretrial procedures are simplified compared to other lawsuits. However, the rules of law and evidence that apply to other lawsuits also apply to small claims trials. The parties may choose to have attorneys represent them but it is a requirement for corporations when the corporation is the plaintiff.
The small claims court can order a judgment only for money. It cannot require a person or business to perform a service, stop a certain action or return property. Fees are based on the population of the county and designated by county boards.
Individuals or Businesses May Sue
Any individual or business can file a lawsuit in the small claims court, if the amount claimed is not more than $10,000. The court may require the appointment of a guardian for those under 18 years of age.
The small claims court is a court specifically designed to hear those cases involving claims of $10,000.00 or less. If someone owes you money or has damaged you in some way for no more than $10,000.00, you can file a lawsuit in the small claims court. The maximum judgment allowed in small claims court is $10,000.00 plus costs; therefore, your claim may not exceed $10,000.00.
Cases Suitable for Small Claims Court
Small claims court may be used only for certain types of cases. Some of the most common types of claims heard in small claims court are:
- Breach of contract
- Property damage
- Personal injury
- Repossessions of property
- Garnishments to enforce judgments
Statute of Limitations
The statute of limitations is the amount of time you have to file your lawsuit after an incident occurs. The length of time you have to file a claim varies depending on the subject matter and circumstances of your claim. Therefore, you should file your case as soon as possible.
If you filed your case after the statute of limitations expired, nothing will happen unless your opponent raises it as a defense.
Self Representation or Attorney
Plaintiff corporations and anyone under 18 years old must be represented by an attorney but any other type of business or individual may use an attorney but it's not a requirement.
Regardless of whether or not you choose to have an attorney, your opponent has the right to have an attorney. A corporation may not appear as a plaintiff without an attorney, but may appear as a defendant through an officer, director, manager or supervisor.
If you choose to act as your own attorney, you must do all the investigation and preparation normally done by the attorney, including representing yourself in court, securing witnesses, collecting documents and so forth.
Where to Sue
You file your lawsuit in either the county where the defendant resides or where the injury occurred.
Your trial will occur between 14 and 40 days after a summons is issued notifying the defendant of the lawsuit. A jury trial is available at the request of either party. If the plaintiff wants a jury trial, one must be requested at the time a complaint is filed. A defendant may request a jury trial at the time the defendant shows up to the first scheduled hearing on the plaintiff's complaint.
Sometimes the judge will not decide the case immediately, instead the judge may send the ruling, or judgment, to the parties at a later date. If the judgment is in your favor, you are entitled to seek payment from the losing party.
In Illinois, you do not need to file a response to a complaint filed against you in small claims court. If you disagree with the claim made in the complaint, you can show up to the first scheduled hearing on the plaintiff's complaint and tell the judge what you disagree with. If you do not show up, then the hearing will be held without you and you will probably be held in default. Being held in default means that you lose and the judge may award whatever money that the other side was asking for in their complaint.
If you do show up and tell the judge you do not disagree with the complaint or that you owe the money, the judge will rule in favor of the plaintiff and will enter a judgment in the amount of money the plaintiff requested in their complaint.
Questions for Your Attorney
- If my claim is for just over $10,000, should I still file a lawsuit in small claims court?
- Will an attorney assist me with my small claims case if I want to represent myself at the trial?
- Can I sue a federal agency in small claims court?