Illinois Small Claims Courts: An Overview

Learn about filing a small claims action in Illinois Small Claims Court.

By , Attorney

What's the small claims court dollar limit in Illinois Small Claims Courts?

You can ask for up to $10,000 in Illinois Small Claims Court.

Can a landlord bring an eviction lawsuit in Illinois Small Claims Court?

Yes, you can have an eviction matter heard in the small claims department regardless of the amount in dispute. It can exceed the $10,000 limit. It's also an excellent forum for other types of cases typically brought in small claims courts, such as property damage matters and breach of contract disputes.

Where should I file my small claims case in Illinois?

Illinois has many courthouses. You must choose the proper court location or "venue," otherwise, the defendant—the person or company you sue—will be able to ask the court to transfer or dismiss your action. In Illinois, you can file in the county where one of the following occurs:

  • where any defendant resides
  • where the transaction or the injury occurred
  • if the defendant is a private corporation, where it does business
  • if the defendant is a public corporation, where its principal office is located.

Go to the Illinois Secretary of State online search webpage for company information. Also, be aware that you might have other options, depending on your case. Most courts post venue rules on the court website.

What's the deadline to file a case in small claims court in Illinois?

You don't have an unlimited amount of time to file a claim. You'll have to bring it within the statute of limitations period for your particular case. For example, the Illinois statute of limitations is ten years for written contract cases and five years for oral contracts. You must bring personal injury cases within two years, and property damage matters within five years. Other limitations periods exist, depending on the type of action. If you don't file within the proper period, you lose your right to sue.

Also, the statute of limitations can stop and restart depending on various circumstances, and figuring out when it expires can be challenging. For instance, if a minor is injured, the personal injury statute won't begin running until the child reaches 18 years of age. Learn more about calculating the statute of limitations.

Can an attorney represent a small claims claimant in Illinois Small Claims Court?

Yes. Individuals can have a lawyer present the claim before the judge or jury. Counsel must represent corporations.

Does the defendant have to answer the small claims complaint?

Written responses are not required; however, you must appear at the date on the summons to avoid an automatic loss and default judgment.

Learn what happens if you get sued in small claims court.

Will I have a judge or jury trial in small claims court in Illinois?

You can choose whether a judge or jury will decide your small claims matter. A plaintiff must ask for a jury when filing the claim. A defendant can ask for a jury before the first appearance. The requesting party will likely have to deposit additional fees to cover the cost of the jury.

Find out what to expect at the small claims trial.

Can I appeal an Illinois small claims case?

Either side can appeal the decision. You'll have to have your appeal on file within 30 days of the entry of judgment. In many small claims courts, the clerk sends a notification of the entry judgment by mail, but the procedure used by your court could be different. Be sure to locate the proper date. You must comply with this and other rules or you'll lose your appeal rights. If you're confused about the process, talk with a local attorney.

Will the court collect my judgment for me?

No. You'll be responsible for all collection efforts. It's a good idea to determine whether you can collect before deciding whether to sue.

Where can I learn more about small claims court in Illinois?

Most courts include filing instructions on the court website or provide self-help services. For additional resources, try the Illinois Attorney General's small claims court webpage.

You can also view Illinois law online on the Illinois General Assembly webpage. (735 Ill. Comp. Stat. §§ 5/2-101 to 5/2-208; 705 Ill. Comp. Stat. § 205/11.) The applicable court rules are found in the Illinois Supreme Court Rules, Rules 281 to 289.

For detailed help with case filing, court strategy, and collecting a money judgment, see Everybody's Guide to Small Claims Court by Attorney Cara O'Neill (Nolo).

Look out for Legal Changes. This overview doesn't provide all of the information needed to file a small claims case. Also, keep in mind that statutes can change, and checking them is always a good idea. How the courts interpret and apply the law can also change. These are just some of the reasons to consult an attorney if you have any questions about litigating your case or if you aren't comfortable independently verifying the law.