- Step 1: Decide if you have a good case Determine whether you have a case. You may be upset, but can you prove before a judge or jury that you suffered a serious injury and that the defendant was responsible? If you cannot, then you shouldn't file a lawsuit.
- Step 2: Find out if you can collect if you win Find out whether the party you want to sue has money, income, or property. If they don't, it will be difficult -- if not impossible -- to collect any money you may be awarded.
- TIP: Try to keep out of court by proposing a settlement to the potential defendant. Avoiding lengthy litigation and lawyers' fees could be a win-win situation for you both.
- Step 3: Estimate your claim Estimate the size of your claim. If it is larger than the amount allowed in small claims court, find a lawyer to handle your case. Heed the old saying, "A person who acts as their own attorney has a fool for a client."
- TIP: The maximum amount allowed in small claims court can be as high as $15,000 but varies from state to state.
- Step 4: Name the defendant Find out and provide the full name of your defendant. If you're suing an individual or individuals, it should be obvious. If you're suing a business, you'll want to name the corporation or parent corporation.
- Step 5: File the complaint File your complaint that describes your claim against the defendant. Steps vary depending on your jurisdiction, but usually you'll have to pay a filing fee, complete some forms, and prepare a summons, which notifies the defendant of your claim.
- TIP: Your local jurisdiction may waive filing fees if you cannot afford them. Check with a lawyer or your local clerk for more information.
- Step 6: Move to discovery phase Once your defendant responds to your complaint, move to the pretrial discovery phase of the suit, when both the prosecution and the defense share evidence and interview witnesses.
- Step 7: Attend court and proceed to trial Attend court on the date set by the judge, and proceed to trial, if necessary. If you go to trial, you'll need to present evidence or witnesses to prove your case.
- FACT: On popular TV shows where cases are decided by real judges, the proceedings are not really small claims trials, but agreements of binding arbitration that can't be appealed.
You Will Need
- A claim that you have been harmed
- A defendant
- Evidence and/or witnesses to support your claim
- A lawyer
- Filing and court feeds