Civil Cases for Money Damages Over $5,000 (not Small Claims)
Q. Do I need a lawyer for these types of cases?
A. You are allowed to handle a case without a lawyer, although these kinds of cases are often complicated. It's up to you to decide. A person going to court without a lawyer is called "self-represented" or "pro se."
Q. How do I start a case?
A. One way is to go to the Clerk's Office. You will need to know the reason for the lawsuit, the amount of money involved, and the correct name and address of the person or business you want to sue. The case begins with filing a summons and complaint.
Q. What are a summons and a complaint?
A. A summons is a notice telling the person or business you are suing that a lawsuit has been started. A complaint is a document telling the person or business the reasons you are suing and what you want (for example, how much money). There are rules for using the summons that the Clerk can explain.
Q. What is a counterclaim?
Q. What are a plaintiff and a defendant?
A. A plaintiff is the person starting the lawsuit. A defendant is the person who is being sued.
Q. What usually happens on the first court date?
A. A judge will look at the case and may discuss the possibility of settlement or agreement. If the case is not settled, it will be scheduled for arbitration or a trial depending on the court.
Q. I received a summons and complaint. What should I do?
A. Carefully read the papers you received. You will find the deadlines for filing an "Answer." You must file an answer to avoid automatically losing the case. You may want to go to the Clerk's Office of the court named on the papers to discuss filing the answer. The answer must include the name of the case and must be notarized. It should include your "defenses" (for example, why you do not believe you owe the money). It can also include your counterclaims.
Q. Can I have a jury trial?
A. The plaintiff and the defendant both have the right to ask for a jury trial when the lawsuit asks for money. You must ask for a jury trial in writing and within certain time limits. You must follow the rules for notifying the defendant about your request. There is a filing fee. The clerk's office can explain the requirements to you.
Q. What happens if a plaintiff or a defendant doesn't come to court?
A. If a plaintiff doesn't come to court on the scheduled court date, the case can be thrown out. If a defendant doesn't come to court, the case may be decided against the defendant with a "default judgment."
Q. What do I do if there is a default judgment against me because I did not answer the summons and complaint or I missed my court date?
A. You can file papers called an "order to show cause" to ask the Judge to vacate (cancel) your default judgment and let you come back to court. If you did not answer or come to court in a consumer debt case use the Vacate Default Judgment in Consumer Debt DIY Form program to make your court papers.
Q. I paid a judgment against me, but the records don't show this. What should I do?
A. It is possible that the plaintiff did not file a document called a "satisfaction of judgment." You can contact the plaintiff (or the plaintiff's lawyer)to find out if this document was filed or when it will be filed. If this does not work, you can write a letter to the court explaining the situation and showing proof that you paid the judgment.
Q. I heard Court can be stressful and costly. Are there other ways to resolve my dispute?
A. Yes. Mediation is a free or low-cost option for many disputes. Mediation allows you to resolve your dispute outside of court, saving time and money and reducing stress. You also have more control over the outcome. Talk to a lawyer about your particular situation or speak to someone at a local Community Dispute Resolution Center to learn if mediation is right for you.