What Happens at a Small Claims Court Trial
At a trial in front of a judge, the court determines the facts of the case after listening to the evidence provided by both the plaintiff and defendant. The judge will also listen to any witness testimony and will review exhibits offered by either the plaintiff or the defendant. The plaintiff presents their side first. The defendant puts on its side of the case once the plaintiff has finished. As the judge is deciding the facts of your case, it is required that you speak slowly and clearly so the judge can follow what you are saying. Normally, people will naturally be inclined to be nervous when speaking in public (and in front of a court), so it is recommended you practice discussing your side of the case in front of another person (spouse, relative, neighbor, friend) so you get more comfortable speaking about it.
What County Should a Small Claims Court Case be filed in?
In Illinois, a small claims court case must be filed in the county where one of the defendants live or in the county in which the incident or transaction took place. In the case of a traffic collision, it would be the county where the traffic collision occurred.
Lee County Small Claims Court Location
Small Claims Court cases are heard at:Lee County Courthouse P.O. Box 329 Dixon, IL 61021
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:309 S. Galena Suite 320 Dixon, Illinois 61021-0325
The clerk’s phone number for the court is: 815-284-5234
The clerk’s fax number for the court is: 815-288-5615
What Types of Cases are handled in Lee County 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 actions brought against debtors
A small claims court can only award a party $10,000 (plus court costs and fees).
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. However, when a corporate entity is the plaintiff in a case, it is required to be represented by an attorney.
Before Filing a Small Claims Court Case in Lee County
Prior to a party filing a case, you are encouraged to contact the defendant by drafting and sending a demand letter. A demand letter is simply a letter spelling out clearly and concisely what your case is and why you feel you are entitled to monetary damages. 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 funds after winning a judgment is not a guarantee. 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).
Does a Lee County Small Claims Court Jury or Judge?
Lee County allows for a small claims court case to be either a bench (judge) or jury trial. It is highly recommended that a party consult with an attorney before asking for a jury trial. Jury trials (in front of six or twelve people) are much more complex than a bench trial (trial in front of a judge) and require more preparation. Requesting a jury trial also has additional costs for the party making the request.
Serving a Party in Lee County Small Claims Court
After filing the complaint, the plaintiff needs to arrange for it to be served. An individual can be served at their address. However, it can be more difficult finding a way to serve a corporate entity. Illinois allows for service of a corporate entity on the corporation’s office or 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.
Preparing for a Small Claims Court Hearing
A party preparing for a small claims court trial should prepare the case to make a clear, understandable presentation to a judge. 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. Preparing a short chronology of the events in your case is helpful. 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). Witnesses who support your side of the case should also be invited to court to provide testimony during the trial. Ensure the witness is aware of the exact date, time, and location of your small claims court case. If the person refuses to come to court, you may need to take steps to issue a subpoena for them to attend.
What happens after the Small Claims Court Trial?
If the court finds for the plaintiff, the court is able to issue a judgment which awards monetary damages to the plaintiff. 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.
How do I file a case in small claims court?
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 that files the complaint is called the plaintiff. The defendant is the term that refers to the party being sued in the complaint.
Small Claims Court in Lee County
Small claims court is a special type of civil court where a party can file a case for $10,000 or less. Rules and procedures for small claims court have been simplified to allow cases to be tried faster and by people who are not attorneys.
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. If a defendant is a corporate entity, only certain officers or members of the corporation are allowed to represent it.