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Can I Sue Someone If They Owe Me Money? | Illinois Small Claims Court

Updated on
February 4, 2021
Article written by
Attorney Kevin O'Flaherty

In this article, we discuss the process of suing someone in small claims court and answer the following questions:

 

  • Who can sue in Illinois small claims court?
  • What types of cases are eligible for Illinois small claims court?
  • Is there a deadline for filing a lawsuit in Illinois small claims court?
  • Which court should I choose?
  • How to start the Illinois small claims court process?
  • How to prepare for an Illinois small claims court trial?
  • Can I file an appeal if I lose?
  • How do I collect?

 

Not every bad deal involves tens of thousands of dollars. Often, individuals must decide whether pursuing a debt of a few thousand dollars or more is worth the time, money, and effort. Small claims court gives consumers an option that is simplified, quick, and relatively inexpensive, making it an excellent choice for lower dollar amount disputes. 

 

Who Can Sue In Illinois Small Claims Court?

 

Anyone 18 years and older, or an emancipated minor, can sue in Illinois small claims court. The amount disputed in small claims court must be less than $10,000. Either party can have legal representation (corporations are required to have legal representation), but the purpose of small claims court is to limit expenditures and create a simplified process that anyone, even those without a lawyer, can follow,

 

What Types Of Cases Are Eligible For Illinois Small Claims Court?

 

Not every type of case can be tried in Illinois small claims court. Some of the more common case types that appear in small claims court include:

 

  • Eviction cases, regardless of the amount of rent or security deposit in question;
  • Breach of contract, personal injury, property damage, and other types of lawsuits;
  • Property repossessions; and
  • Garnishments to enforce judgments.

 

No matter the case, the maximum allowable judgment in small claims court is $10,000. Small claims court does not require an attorney to process the case, but either side may elect to have legal representation. If the other side has an attorney and you do not, it may be in your best interest to consider speaking with a lawyer. 

 

Is There A Deadline For Filing A Lawsuit In Illinois Small Claims Court?

 

The type of case determines how much time you have to file a claim. For example, the statute of limitations on personal injury cases is 2 years, 10 years for written contracts, 5 years for oral contracts, and 5 years for property damage issues. If you’re unsure if the deadline for your case type has passed, you can do some research online, contact an attorney, or call the courthouse where you plan to file the claim. Keep in mind that other factors affect the deadline for filing a claim, such as one party being a minor or getting incarcerated. 

 

Which Court Should I Choose?

 

Filing in the correct courthouse is an important part of the small claims process. If you file your documents at the wrong courthouse, the defendant can ask the dismiss the action. The “venue” rules of small claims court require you to file:

 

  • In the county where the transaction or injury occurred;
  • Where the defendant lives;
  • If the defendant is a private corporation, where the business operates; or
  • If the defendant is a public corporation, the company’s principal office.

 

How To Start The Illinois Small Claims Court Process?

 

Along with filling out the correct paperwork, you will need to visit the court and follow these steps:

 

  1. On your first visit to the courthouse, the clerk will supply you with a summons form and a complaint form to begin the lawsuit.
  2. You must list your name as the plaintiff if you’re filing the lawsuit and representing yourself;
  3. The party you are suing is the defendant. You must enter the correct address to reach the defendant. If the summons papers can’t be delivered, then you’ll have to start the process over;
  4. You’ll need to list the amount of money you seek; no more than $10,000;
  5. Include a brief explanation of why you’re suing the defendant;
  6. The clerk will assign a number to your case, write it down;
  7. Notify the clerk if your address or phone number change after you file;
  8. Pay the filing fee;
  9. Ensure copies of the claim are “served” on the defendant; and
  10. Attend another person’s small claims case to understand the process better.

 

How To Prepare For An Illinois Small Claims Court Trial?

 

If you’re planning on handling your case alone, adequate preparation is paramount; you’ll only have one shot to convince the judge. Even though you may have a better understanding of your situation than anyone else, conveying that knowledge in a concise manner that follows a logical argument is a different matter altogether. Preparing for trial includes:

 

  • Gathering all pertinent paperwork that pertains to the case — receipts, checks, credit card statements, contracts, warranties, order forms, etc;
  • Preparing a compelling statement by thinking through exactly why the other person owes you money. Start by creating a detailed list of the facts of the case and make sure you have evidence to back up each fact;
  • Select trustworthy witnesses and specialists that can bolster your argument;
  • Plan out the order in which you will present the evidence;
  • Write out what you plan to say in court and practice, practice, practice.

 

While this may seem like a lot of work, especially if the other person no shows, it will greatly increase your chances of winning your case. If the other side fails to appear at the hearing, you will win by default. However, you are not guaranteed the judgment you seek. You may need to “prove up” the damages if the judge feels that you are asking too much. 

 

Can I File An Appeal If I Lose?

 

Yes, both sides can file an appeal. Generally, you have 30 days from when the judgment is entered. The judgment is entered when the clerk writes it into the official records, not when the judge announces or writes the decision.

 

How Do I Collect?

 

If the judge rules in your favor, ask the court to include any costs incurred by you in the process. Many of the costs associated with filing the lawsuit can be reimbursed. The court will enter the judgment, stating how much the defendant owes you. The defendant can elect to pay you immediately, which most will do to avoid further legal issues, but they are not legally obligated to pay at the time of judgment. You may have to take informal or formal legal action to collect, including filing paperwork for garnishment.


Can I Sue Someone If They Owe Me Money? | Illinois Small Claims Court
Author

Attorney Kevin O'Flaherty

Kevin O’Flaherty is a graduate of the University of Iowa and Chicago-Kent College of Law. He has experience in litigation, estate planning, bankruptcy, real estate, and comprehensive business representation.

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