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Court Basics Topics
This content was last updated on 3/26/2022
- What if I want to file a case in Small Claims court?
Go through these steps to help you decide if you should file a case in Small Claims court:
Step 1: Try to settle the problem with the other person.
Step 2: If that doesn’t work, decide if your case should be filed in small claims court. If yes, file the case.
Step 3: Tell the other person that you filed a claim. You need to tell them by “serving” the Complaint and Summons on them.
Step 4: Check to see if the defendant was served.
Step 5: Get ready for your day in court.
Step 6: Go to court.
Remember that in every lawsuit, the person suing is called the plaintiff, and the person being sued is called the defendant.
- What does the Kentucky small claims court process look like?
Small claims court is a part of the district court. It handles claims for $2,500 or less and is not as formal as other Kentucky courts. The rules of evidence and the process are simpler than other courts. It’s easier to represent yourself without a lawyer, but you can have a lawyer if you want. A judge decides your case.
To file a claim in small claims court:
- your claim must be for $2,500 or less
- your claim must be for money only. You can’t ask for property to be returned or money because someone performed a service badly
- you can’t ask for any ‘discovery.’ This means that you can’t ask the other side to answer written questions (called interrogatories) and you won’t be doing a formal fact-finding investigation.
Small claims court is less formal, but you might want to talk with a lawyer if your claim involves personal injury or medical expenses, if you are seeking damages from a traffic accident, or if you can’t fill out the necessary court forms.
Before you file a claim in court, try to work out the dispute on your own. If you can avoid court, you can save time and money. Also, even if you win your case, the other party could appeal. This would mean going through another trial. Finally, if you try to resolve the dispute before taking the person to court, you might be able to use this as evidence to build your case.
- Try to settle the problem before filing a case
The first step is to talk to the person that you are thinking of suing. Think about the amount of money you think they owe you and decide the minimum amount you would accept to avoid going to court. This is called a settlement. Try to talk to the person face-to-face. If you come to an agreement, put it in writing. You and the other person need to sign the agreement that you reach.
If you can’t solve the dispute by talking with the other person, write them a letter. Start by describing the problem and why they owe you money. Clearly and politely ask for payment. Write down the date you want to get the payment by. Say in the letter that if you don’t get payment, you will sue them in court. Make a copy of the letter for yourself. Send the letter by certified mail. Ask the post office for a return receipt.
If you can’t solve the problem by talking or writing them a letter, you may want to file a case in court.
- Are there things I should think about before filing a case?
Before you file, it’s good to look at how likely it is that you can win your case. Here are some things to think about:
First, your claim must be within the statute of limitations. This means you have to file your case within a certain time. Here are some examples:
- Claims based on oral contracts must be filed within 5 years.
- Claims based on written contracts must be filed within 15 years.
- Some personal injury claims have a 1-year statute of limitations.
If you are unsure about the time frame, go ahead and file a case. But, if too much time has passed, the judge dismisses the claim. If that happens you lose your filing fee.
Second, ask yourself if you, as the plaintiff, can prove your case by a “preponderance of the evidence.” In other words, you must have good enough evidence to convince a judge you are most likely right. To prove your case, you must present your evidence to the court. This can be things like, a contract, a letter, an invoice, an estimate, or testimony from a witness.
Third, decide if filing a claim is worth the time and effort. What is the maximum amount of money you are likely to win? Will you able to collect it from the other person?
- What are the steps for filing a small claim action?
There are 4 steps in filing a small claim action.
Step 1: File the complaint
To file a small claims case, you need to fill out the Small Claims Complaint form. You can fill it out online at: https://kycourts.gov/Legal-Forms/Legal%20Forms/175.pdf. Print it out when you are done. You can also get the form from the Office of the Circuit Court Clerk in any county.
When you fill out the Complaint, be as specific as you can about why the defendant owes you money. After you fill it out, take it to the office of the circuit court clerk to file.
Step 2: Pay the filing fee
When you file your complaint, you have to pay the filing fee. You can find out the cost of the filing fee by calling the office of circuit court clerk in the county where you file the case. If you can’t afford the fee, ask in writing that the fee be waived. You need to also fill out a Motion for Waiver of Costs and Fees form. Find the form at: https://kycourts.gov/Legal-Forms/Legal%20Forms/026.pdf
Step 3: Have the defendant served
Once the complaint is filed and the filing fee is paid, the defendant must be served. It’s officially called Service of Process. It is when you let the other person know that you filed a suit against them. It has to be a certain way. The circuit court clerk issues a summons to tell the defendant your complaint has been filed. The court sends a copy of the complaint and the summons to the defendant. Make sure you get a copy of the complaint that you filed and the summons the clerk prepared. The location, time and place of the hearing is listed on the Small Claims Summons form. When you file your case, tell the circuit court clerk how you want the complaint and summons to be served. You can choose either certified mail with a return receipt or have the summons personally served on the defendant by the Sheriff ’s Office. You have to pay the office of circuit court clerk ahead of time for mailing the summons by certified mail. If you choose personal delivery, you pay the service fee directly to the Sheriff ’s Office.
Step four: Check to see if defendant was served
It is your responsibility to check with the office of the circuit court clerk to be sure the defendant has been served with the complaint and summons. It is not the responsibility of the office of the circuit court clerk to tell you. Call the office of the circuit clerk in the county where you filed and ask if the defendant was served. You need to give the clerk the case number. Find the case number in the upper, right-hand corner of either the complaint or summons. The judge won’t hear your case until the defendant is served the summons.
- What happens after the defendant is served?
Once the defendant is served, you are ready to go to court. Remember that the place and time of the hearing is listed on the Small Claims Summons form.
The defendant may contact you to try to settle the case. If you and the defendant reach a settlement before the hearing, you need to complete a Small Claims Settlement Agreement & Order form. Get this form from the Office of the Circuit Court Clerk, or online from the Kentucky Court of Justice website at: https://kycourts.gov/Legal-Forms/Legal%20Forms/199.pdf.
Both you and the defendant must sign the form. Take it to the office of the circuit court clerk for filing. Find out from the clerk if you and the defendant still have to appear in court. If the clerk tells you that you need to go, make sure you go.
If the judge approves the settlement agreement, it becomes legal and can be enforced.
If you can’t settle the case, get ready for your day in court. Think about what you are going to say. You may want to make notes to take with you. Organize any documents you are going to use. If you are going to have witnesses, talk to them ahead of time so you know what they are going to say.
Watch a video that tells you more about going to court here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sevn3yD7_lc
After hearing from both you and the defendant, the judge decides based on the facts of the case. They enter a judgment that says who won, how much has to be paid and how it needs to be paid. You get a copy of the judgment.