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. Bring documents, photographs, contracts, receipts, or anything else that supports your position. It is recommended to prepare a short chronology of events or description of all of the facts surrounding 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). Witnesses who support your side of the case should also be invited to court to provide testimony during the trial. You should make sure any witness you need is aware of the location of the court (including courtroom number) and the time and date of the trial. If the person refuses to come to court, you may need to take steps to issue a subpoena for them to attend.
Before Filing a Small Claims Court Case
Before a party files a case in small claims court, it is recommended to contact the party directly by 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. A demand letter is ideal because it takes time for a case to make its way through the courts toward a resolution. 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. 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).
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. For example, if your case involves a car accident and the car accident occurs in Hamilton County, you can file the case here.
Filing 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 through the court clerk’s office which is located inside of the courthouse. The party filing the complaint is called the plaintiff. The party being sued in the complaint is called the defendant.
What to Expect at a Hamilton County 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 court will also listen to any witness testimony and exhibits (documents) provided by either side. The plaintiff presents their side first. The defendant presents their case after the plaintiff has concluded their presentation. 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. 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).
Who can sue in small claims court?
Small claims court can be used by any resident of Illinois or Illinois corporation (both as a plaintiff or a defendant). If an individual is under the age of majority (18), the court may appoint a guardian. 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.
Does a Hamilton County Small Claims Court Jury or Judge?
Hamilton County allows for a small claims court case to be either a bench (judge) or jury trial. 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. Additionally, a jury trial costs additional money for the party requesting it.
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. 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.
Can I have an attorney represent me in Small Claims Court?
Both plaintiffs and defendants are allowed to be represented by attorneys in small claims court or you can represent yourself. However, when a corporate entity is the plaintiff in a case, it is required to be represented by an attorney.
What Types of Cases are handled in Hamilton 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
- repossessions of personal property that was leased or purchased on credit
- garnishment actions brought against debtors
The maximum judgment that can be allowed in small claims court is $10,000 (plus costs).
Small Claims Court in Hamilton County
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 in Hamilton County uses simpler rules and procedures than regular civil court which allows cases to be tried or resolved quicker and by people who are not attorneys.
Small Claims Court Locations for Hamilton County
Small Claims Court cases are heard at:Hamilton County Courthouse 100 S. Jackson Street McLeansboro, IL 62859-1489
The circuit court clerk takes care of all documents and files for court cases. The circuit clerk’s address is:100 South Jackson Street McLeansboro, Illinois 62859-1490
The clerk’s phone number for the court is: 618-643-3224
The clerk’s fax number for the court is: 618-643-3455
How do I serve a party?
After a complaint is filed, the next step is for the plaintiff to affect service of the complaint on the defendant(s). 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. This information can be obtained online at the Illinois Secretary of State website.