The court system is supposed to allow people to settle their differences in a civilized manner, but the expense involved can restrict court access to the wealthy. The filing fees to bring a new case to court will already set you back many hundreds of dollars, but that is nothing compared to the money you will pay to an attorney who handles your case. And for all the big bucks you invest, you'll still have to wait a year or two or even more before the case wends its way to a final decision. If these things disturb you and you live in Cook County, Illinois, it's time to read up on small claims court.
Small Claims Court
The very fact that small claims court exists in Illinois is an acknowledgement of how unwieldy the regular court system has become for average people. Small claims court tries to circumvent all the problems that make regular Illinois courts expensive and difficult, like sky-high costs, the need for attorneys and the lengthy wait times before resolution.
Small claims court costs are lower than other court costs, the wait time is short, and the rules and procedures are simplified so that no attorneys are required, although they are allowed. While the small claims statutes of limitations (the time in which you have to bring a particular case) are the same as regular court limitations periods, the entire procedure, from first filing to final argument, is easy to tackle and user friendly.
Small Claims Court inCook County
If you live in or around Chicago, Illinois, you'll want to familiarize yourself with the Small Claims Court in Cook County. It is located at 50 West Washington Street in Chicago. Any individual or business can bring a lawsuit there as long as the monetary amount of the claim is "small." That is defined as $10,000 or less.
If your claim is for $3,000, you can file in a division called Pro Se Small Claims Court. Pro Se means "on one's own behalf," and those who represent themselves in court, rather than relying on a lawyer, are called pro se litigants. The Pro Se Small Claims Court of Cook County is open to any individual acting for herself who wishes to file a lawsuit seeking damages in the amount of $3,000 or less.
Read More: How Does Small Claims Court Work?
Matters Appropriate for Small Claims
As you might imagine, not every case is appropriate for small claims court. Class actions or complex matters really cannot be resolved with the simplified rules and procedures. You can bring lawsuits for money, like breach of contract, property damage or personal injury. You can also bring any type of eviction case, repossessions of property, i.e., consumer goods leased or purchased on credit from a dealer, and garnishments to enforce judgments from funds owed to debtors.
Cook County Complaint Form
To file a case in the Small Claims Court in Cook County, download and review the complaint form from the court's website. It is a very straightforward form without any legalese involved. The blanks that you have to fill in are the names of the parties, the amount of the claim and what it is about: "The claim arose on or about ****___, and involved the following event: ______."
Once the claim is filled in to your satisfaction, you may file it at the court and pay a filing fee. The forms must then be served on the other party. If the other party lives in the same county, you can send them by mail. At that point, the court sets a date for a hearing in your case. Many cases are resolved informally and settled at this stage, so you have to find evidence and witnesses to support your argument and bring it with you. If it doesn't settle, a hearing before a judge is scheduled.
Teo Spengler earned a J.D. from U.C. Berkeley's Boalt Hall. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an M.A. and an M.F.A in creative writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Her work has appeared in numerous online publications including USA Today, Legal Zoom, eHow Business, Livestrong, SF Gate, Go Banking Rates, Arizona Central, Houston Chronicle, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pearson, Quicken.com, TurboTax.com, and numerous attorney websites. Spengler splits her time between the French Basque Country and Northern California.