How to File a Civil Suit in Kentucky

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To begin a civil lawsuit in Kentucky, the person or entity filing the suit should prepare a complaint and file it with the appropriate Kentucky court. Smaller lawsuits, including small claims, are filed in district court; larger cases must be filed in circuit court.

What Is a Civil Suit?

A civil suit is a lawsuit that is not a criminal case. Civil proceedings include matters like divorce, custody and bankruptcy, but an actual civil lawsuit is usually a suit seeking a money judgment based on civil law, such as breach of contract, personal injury and wrongful death.

The Kentucky Court System

Kentucky’s civil lawsuits are handled in either district court or circuit court. District courts handle small claims cases as well as other minor civil and criminal matters, such as traffic offenses and misdemeanors. Circuit courts are the courts of general jurisdiction in Kentucky and handle larger cases.

Documents to File in Kentucky

To commence a civil suit in Kentucky, the plaintiff must prepare a complaint and either a summons or a warning order. The papers must be filed with the clerk of the court in the appropriate county. The complaint should identify all the parties to the action and contain a plain statement of what happened and what the plaintiff is asking for.

For example, if the action is a breach of contract action and the plaintiff believes he is entitled to $5,000, the complaint should state there was a contract and the defendant breached it, so the plaintiff is seeking judgment in the amount of $5,000.

Read More: How to File a Motion in Kentucky

Filing in Small Claims Court in KY

Small claims in Kentucky are lawsuits seeking $2,500 or less. Kentucky’s district courts handle small claims matters through an expedited process. The plaintiff will need to prepare and file a small claims court complaint, which is a form available on the Kentucky Courts website or the Office of Circuit Court Clerk, and pay the requisite filing fee. All cases in small claims court should use the small claims complaint form.

Filing in Kentucky Civil District Court

The district courts in Kentucky can handle civil matters of $5,000 or less; anything $2,500 and lower is a small claims court matter, while between $2,500 and $5,000 is a regular civil case. If the lawsuit is worth $5,000 or less, it must be filed in district court. Only matters worth $2,500 or less should use the small claims complaint.

Filing in Kentucky Circuit Court

Circuit court cases are those in which the amount in controversy is more than $5,000. The plaintiff must file the complaint and summons or the complaint and warning order to commence a case.

Issuance of a Summons

If the defendant resides in Kentucky and has lived there for at least four months, the plaintiff should file a complaint, at which time the clerk will issue a _summon_s. Both documents must be served upon the defendant, either by personal service or through certified or registered mail. The defendant must respond to the complaint, either by filing an answer or filing a motion to dismiss, within 20 days of service.

Kentucky Warning Orders

In non-small claims matters, if the defendant is an out-of-state resident, has lived in Kentucky for less than four months or is an unknown person, the plaintiff will need to obtain a warning order. This is also true if the defendant is known and lives in Kentucky but is avoiding service.

The warning order must be requested with an affidavit from the plaintiff explaining why the order was required. The clerk will issue the order, which will appoint a Kentucky attorney as the warning order attorney, who is to make attempts to contact the defendant. The warning order states that the defendant must respond to the complaint within 50 days.


  • A person who sues someone else in a civil case is called the plaintiff; the person she sues is called the defendant. In Kentucky, a plaintiff can file a civil lawsuit in either district court or circuit court, depending upon the amount being sought in the suit.

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