What Happens at a Small Claims Court Trial
At a bench trial (or trial in front of a judge), the judge will listen to both the plaintiff and the defendant. The judge will also listen to any testimony from any witnesses and examine any exhibits (documents and photographs) provided by the parties. Plaintiffs present their side of the case first. The defendant puts on its side of the case once the plaintiff has finished. It is important to speak clearly and slowly so that the judge can understand you. It is normal for all people to be nervous when speaking in public (let alone in front of a judge) so it may be helpful to practice talking about your case in front of another person (spouse, friend, neighbor).
Filing a Small Claims Case in Cass County Court
The law in Illinois mandates that a case be filed in the county where (1.) one of the defendants live or (2.) the county where the incident or transaction involved in the case occurred. For example, if the case involved property damage, the case could be filed in the county where the property is located.
Is an Attorney Able to Represent Me in Small Claims Court?
You can represent yourself in small claims court or hire an attorney to represent you. But, corporate entities that are the plaintiffs are required to be represented by an attorney.
How to File a Small Claims Court Case
The plaintiff needs to file a document called a complaint with the court clerk. A small claims complaint can be obtained at the court clerk’s office. The party filing the complaint is called the plaintiff. The party that the plaintiff is trying to recover money from is called the defendant.
Does a Judge or Jury hear my case in Cass County Small Claims Court?
In Illinois, a small claims court case can be heard in front of a judge or a jury. It is highly recommended that a party consult with an attorney before asking for a jury trial. A jury trial is much more complex and difficult for a person to represent themselves in and requires substantially more preparation. Also, if you are the party making the request for a jury trial, you will incur additional costs associated with the jury trial.
What Types of Cases are handled in Cass County Small Claims Court?
Only the following types of cases can be filed in small claims court under Illinois law:
- breach of contract
- property damage
- personal injury cases
- repossession of personal property leased or purchased on credit
- garnishment actions brought against debtors
A small claims court can only award a party $10,000 (plus court costs and fees).
Before Filing a Small Claims Court Case
It is strongly recommended to send a demand letter to the defendant before filing a small claims court case. A demand letter is a written summary describing the circumstances of the plaintiff’s claim and explains why the plaintiff should be awarded the money. The demand letter is recommended because resolving a case through small claims court (even though quicker and simpler than a regular civil case) still takes time. Additionally, collection of any court award takes additional time and is never guaranteed. Drafting and sending a demand letter allows for both parties to explore the possibility of a settlement even before a case is filed. Additionally, putting down your case in clear words is something a plaintiff will have to do anyways when a complaint is filed (and certainly done in preparation for the trial).
Small Claims Court in Cass County
Small claims court in Cass County is a unique type of court where a plaintiff can file a case in an amount of $10,000 or less. Small claims court has much simpler rules and procedures and is designed to try cases faster.
Who can sue in small claims court?
Any individual or corporation doing business in Illinois can both sue and be sued in small claims court. The court may require the appointment of a guardian for those parties under the age of 18. If a corporation sues in small claims court, they will need to be represented by an attorney. However, if a corporation is sued, it can be represented by certain officials at the company including an officer, manager, or registered agent.
What happens after the Small Claims Court Trial?
If the judge rules in favor of the plaintiff, the judge can issue an order or judgment awarding the plaintiff monetary damages. Illinois law requires that either party wishing to appeal the judgment in small claims court needs to be filed the appeal within thirty days of the date the judgment is entered by the court.
Cass County Small Claims Court Location
In Cass County, Small Claims Court cases are heard at:Cass County Courthouse 100 E. Springfield Street Virginia, IL 62691
The circuit court clerk takes care of all documents and files for court cases. The circuit clerk’s address is:P.O. Box 203 Virginia, Illinois 62691-0203
The clerk’s phone number for the court is: 217-452-7225
The clerk’s fax number for the court is: 217-452-7552
Service of a Cass County Small Claims Court Defendant
After a complaint is filed, the next step is for the plaintiff to affect service of the complaint on the defendant(s). Serving an individual is easy (if an address is known). But if the party is a corporate entity, it can be more difficult determining the correct procedure. In Illinois, a corporation can be served on either an office of the corporation or its registered agent. The Illinois Secretary of State website has additional information to allow you to search for addresses related to corporate entities and registered agents.
Small Claims Court Trial Preparation
The most important thing about preparing for your trial is the ability to explain your side of the case in a clear concise way to the judge (or jury) so they can understand. Before the trial date, you should gather any pieces of evidence that will help you explain your side of the case including any contracts, receipts, photographs, or other documents. It is useful to prepare a short chronology of the dates and times of the events in your case. The court will pay particular attention to details including times, dates, value of damages so it is critical to have these details noted and documented ahead of time (and even including them in your complaint). If there are any people who observed anything in your case, it is important to invite them to court to provide testimony at the trial. Ensure the witness is aware of the exact date, time, and location of your small claims court case. If the witness refuses to come to court, you will need to prepare and serve a subpoena for the witness’s attendance.