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 witness testimony and will review exhibits offered by either the plaintiff or the defendant. The court will hear evidence from the plaintiff first. The defendant presents their case after the plaintiff has concluded their presentation. It is important to speak clearly and slowly so that the judge can understand you. It is normal to be nervous when speaking in front of a judge, which is why we recommend that your practice talking about your case with another person before the actual trial.
What kind of cases are handled in small claims court?
In Illinois, only certain types of cases are handled in small claims court:
- breach of contract
- property damage
- personal injury
- repossession of personal property leased or purchased on credit
- garnishment case against a debtor
A small claims court can only award a party $10,000 (plus court costs and fees).
Beginning a Lake County Small Claims Court Case
Prior to a party filing a case, you are encouraged to contact the defendant by drafting and sending a demand letter. Demand letters are a written summary explaining the facts surrounding your case and why you are entitled to money (which should be drafted in a polite, clear, concise way). Sending a demand letter is recommended because filing a case and resolving it in court often 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. Finally, a demand letter allows the plaintiff a chance to explain in clear words the facts surrounding the issue (which is something the plaintiff will have to do in the complaint which is filed with the court).
After the Small Claims Court Hearing
If the court finds for the plaintiff, the court is able to issue a judgment which awards monetary damages to the plaintiff. Either party is able to appeal the judgment issued by the court (which must be filed within thirty days of the judgment being entered by the court.
How to File a Small Claims Court Case
A small claims court case begins with a party filing a document called the complaint. A blank complaint can be obtained by contacting the court clerk’s office. The party filing the complaint is called the plaintiff. The defendant is the term that refers to the party being sued in the complaint.
Lake County Small Claims Court Location
Small Claims Court cases are heard at:Lake County Courthouse 18 North County Street Waukegan, IL 60085
The court’s website is here. The circuit court clerk takes care of all documents and files for court cases. The circuit clerk’s address is:18 North County Street Waukegan, Illinois 60085-4340
The clerk’s phone number for the court is: 847-377-3380
The clerk’s fax number for the court is: 847-360-6409
Lake County Small Claims Court
Small claims court is a special type of civil court where a party can file a case for $10,000 or less. Small claims court has much simpler rules and procedures and is designed to try cases faster.
Small Claims Court Trial Preparation
A party preparing for a small claims court trial should prepare the case to make a clear, understandable presentation to a judge. Bring documents, photographs, contracts, receipts, or anything else that supports your position. It is useful to prepare a short chronology of the dates and times of the events in your case. Details including dates, times, and values of damages or items purchased will be important for the court to take note of (and should have been included in your initial complaint if you are the plaintiff). You should also take steps to secure the attendance of any witnesses that have information to help your case. 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.
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. A corporation is not required to be represented by an attorney in small claims court. However, if a corporation is sued, it can be represented by certain officials at the company including an officer, manager, or registered agent.
Can I have an attorney 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.
Does a Judge or Jury hear my case in Lake County Small Claims Court?
In Illinois, a small claims court case can be heard in front of a judge or a jury. You are encouraged to consult with an attorney prior to requesting a jury trial. A jury trial is much more complex and difficult for a person to represent themselves in and requires substantially more preparation. Requesting a jury trial also has additional costs for the party making the request.
What County Should a Small Claims Court Case be filed in?
Illinois law requires a small claims court case to be filed in the county where one of the defendants live or in the county where the incident or transaction involved in the case occurred. In the case of a traffic collision, it would be the county where the traffic collision occurred.
Service of a Lake County Small Claims Court Defendant
After filing the complaint, the plaintiff needs to arrange for it to be served. 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. This information can be obtained online at the Illinois Secretary of State website.