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Small Claims Court
In Illinois, any suit in which the plaintiff is seeking money damages of $5,000 or less based on a breach of contract or tort is deemed a “small claim.” A tort is a harm caused by someone’s negligence, such as damages from an automobile accident, or from intentional conduct, such as a battery.
The distinctive features of Small Claims Court reflect its purpose, which is to make it feasible for persons to bring suit on their own behalf rather than incurring the costs of hiring an attorney, which may be prohibitive compared to the amount of money being sought in the suit.
First, as the plaintiff, you likely can use forms which are pre-printed and available in the Circuit Clerk’s Office in the county where you are filing your suit. The DeKalb County Circuit Clerk, located on the 2nd floor of the DeKalb County Courthouse in Sycamore, has preprinted Complaint and Summons forms, and a helpful booklet explaining how to file a small claims suit.
Second, the case is expedited. By law, the first court date must be set not earlier than 14 days nor more than 40 days after you file the complaint in court. In DeKalb County, this date, called the return date, is not the trial date. The judge will likely set a trial date for a date within a few weeks thereafter, depending on his, your, and the defendant’s schedules. By law, no depositions, other formal discovery requests, or other motions are permitted without the prior permission of the judge.
Third, the judge has the discretion to relax rules of procedure and rules of evidence, and adjudicate the case “informally.” Note that how the judge conducts the hearings is within his or her discretion. Prudence dictates that you prepare for the hearing as if it will be conducted formally. It is therefore advisable for you to consult with an attorney, even if you intend to handle the case yourself.