Before you file a small claims suit, consider the importance of the matter in dispute and compare it to the time, effort and expense required to assert your claim. You should also consider the probable chances of winning your lawsuit.
If you decide to pursue a lawsuit, the first step in filing a small claims action is obtaining and filling out the necessary forms.
Statement of Claim
You will need to file a statement of claim and set a time and location for your hearing, which will be held in a courtroom within 90 days of your filing date.
A court interviewer will assist you in preparing your statement of claim. The court isn't staffed to do any investigation of the claim; therefore, you must have the correct name of the defendant and the correct address where service can be made. You should also be prepared to tell the interviewer the exact nature of your complaint, including dates, places and amounts involved in your claim.
If the defendant is a business, you must also be able to advise the interviewer about whether it is a corporation, partnership or individual proprietorship. Be prepared to provide the full name of the owner if the company is individually owned.
Where to File
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 person you're suing lives
- The event which caused you to file a complaint occurred
Cost of Filing
There are fees for filing a complaint and for having the complaint served upon the defendant. You may find out what those fees are in any given case by calling the clerk of the court in which you intend to start your lawsuit.
The cost of filing fees will be added to the judgment if you win your claim. Additional costs will be incurred if you are suing more than one defendant or serving a complaint out of the county.
You will need to bring three copies of bills, estimates, contracts or other documents relating to your case so they can be attached to your complaint.
In case of personal injury or auto damage from an accident, you will be given an affidavit to be completed by a repairman. This should be completed and brought into court. Also, if your case involves an auto accident, you must have the defendant's date of birth, operator's number and automobile license number or the clerk won't be able to certify the judgment to the Pennsylvania Department of Motor Vehicles.
It is not sufficient to just file the appropriate document with the court. In addition, you must take steps to serve a copy of the document upon the defendant.
The defendant must be served with a copy of the statement of claim, which summons the defendant to court. You may give the defendant notice by certified or registered mail, sheriff or court-approved disinterested adult. You will receive a postcard indicating whether the defendant was served or not.
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 that I set when I filed my complaint?