This is intended to be an educational and informational guide. It is not intended to be or to substitute for legal advice and representation. Law, legal requirements, and procedures vary from place to place. It is advisable to consult an attorney.
What is Small Claims Court?
Small Claims Court is an informal Court where a person can sue with or without an attorney for any amount less than Six Thousand Dollars ($6,000). The Small Claims Court may be used to resolve problems such as:
a. you have paid for something that does not work or does not arrive,
b. someone refuses to pay you money you are owed,
c. you cannot get a security deposit back,
d. your property is being illegally held by a landlord or someone else, or
e. you or your property have been injured.
Where is Small Claims Court?
In Vanderburgh County, Small Claims Court is a division of the Superior Court. Small Claims Court is located in Room 223 on the second floor of the Courts Building.
How do you file?
You may use Small Claims Court in the county where the transaction or problem took place, or where the person you are suing lives. In Vanderburgh County, you must fill out a Notice of Claim at the County Clerk's Office, Room 216. You will need to know the exact name, address, and telephone number of the person you are suing. You must serve a defendant at his or her home, but not at his or her place of employment. If a contract or lease is involved, and you have a copy, bring it with you. If you have any trouble filling out the form, ask the Clerk to help you. You must sign the Notice of Claim in person at the Clerk's Office or have your signature notarized.
What are the filing fees?
Check with the clerk to find out the amount of the filing fee, which you must pay in the form of a money order made out to the Vanderburgh County Clerk of the Courts. The clerk will not accept personal checks or credit cards. If you do not have the money, tell the Clerk. The Clerk will the give you papers and send you to talk to a Judge. The Judge may waive the filing fee.
Do you need an attorney?
It is often a good idea to seek an attoreny, but you can file a claim in Small Claims Court without an attorney. If you way a jury trial, you should seek an attorney.
When are the court hearings?
In Vanderburgh County, there may be two or more Court hearings. The first hearing gives the other side a chance to appear to admit or deny the claim. If the claim is denied, the case will be set for trial at some date in the future.
Must you be in attendance?
If you filed the case and are not present at the date of the first Court hearing, the case will be dismissed. IF you are teh one being sued and you are not present at the date of the Court hearing, you wil lose be default and the one suing will get what they ask for. If you cannot go to Court on the date set, you sould ask the Court several days ahead of time for another date. This is called a continuance. A request for a continuance should be in writing and filed at least 5 days before the scheduled hearing date.
What are counterclaims?
If the person you sue believes he/she has a claim against you, he/she can file what is called a counterclaim against you. Both claims will be decided at the same time.
If you are sued and you believe you have a claim against the person who sued you, you can file a counterclaim. Both claims can be heard at the same time. Some claims are lost forever if no counterclaim is filed.
What if you settle out of court?
If you settle the matter with the person you are suing before trial, put your agreement in writing. Both sides should sign the agreement, date it, and file it with the Court. Then the Court can order the parties to follow the agreement.
What if your case goes to trial?
Bring witnesses and any other evidence you might have on the date of the trial. If your witnesses do not want to come, you can ask the Court to order them to come by issuing a subpoena. You must have the witnesses' correct address to have a subpoena issued. Contact the Clerk about this as soon as possible.
At the trial, you can tell your side of the story. There are no technical or formal rules to follow. The Judge may make a decision immediately or may decide later, in which event the case is taken under advisement. If you win, the other side must usually pay or reimburse your filing fee and any other Court costs of the action.
What if you sue and win?
You must give the losing party a reasonable time to pay. If you do not receive the money awarded to you by the Judge, you must file additional papers and come to Court again so that the judgment can be collected. This is called proceedings supplemental. If the Judge ordered the other person to return property to you, be sure to ask the Court to issue a "Writ of Replevin" to the person, which is a written order that the property be returned to you. You must make arrangements to pick up the property.
What if there is an appeal?
Either side can file an appeal. Technical rules and short time limits apply. Appeals can be complicated and often require the assistance of an attorney. The Legal Aid Society does not file appeals.