Taking a case to small claims court. - Chicagoland Sportbikes
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post #1 of 17 (permalink) Old 04-10-2007, 08:46 AM Thread Starter
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Taking a case to small claims court.

What's the general procedure & how long does it typically take?

A few years back I was envolved in an accident that totalled a car, plus damaged the track bike & trailer.

My insurance company (State Farm) paid on the car, less the deductable, but not the bike or trailer as I did not have separate policies for them.

The at fault driver had a state limits minimum liability policy and although State Farm has recovered some of their funds through subrogation, I'm left holding the 4&6 repair bill on the bike, towing, storage, & a large deductable on the car policy. State Farm did claim they would attempt to recover my deductable but are now telling me that they were not able to. The at fault driver's insurance co. told me several times on a policy limits case that each item damaged would be paid a percentage of repair costs based on that cost versus the policy's limit. I am now finding out this is not accurate either. They paid State Farm the whole policy limit and left me holding the bag on the rest.

I think the statue of limitations on cases like this is 3 yrs. If that's the case I've got about a month or so to work with.

Anybody been through this process that can get me started and/or point me in the right direction?
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post #2 of 17 (permalink) Old 04-10-2007, 08:57 AM
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I have done this. I believe it is called filing a "mini tort" which is a small claims lawsuit in Miichigan for. it is basically a one day hearing. took about 1 hour and I didn't need a lawyer. They probably have something similar here in Illinois

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post #3 of 17 (permalink) Old 04-10-2007, 09:05 AM
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If I remember correctly, the limit in small claims is 5k, anything above up to 50k goes to mandatory arbitration (in DuPage). This process is much less formal, and you present your case to a 3 attorney panel who will attempt to come to an equitable remedy. The result can be appealed and you can get a real trial, but the panels tend to be more fair/generous than do juries.
In small claims, many of the litigants do in fact file pro se, but this generally isn't a good idea especially if you intend to go after the insurance co. Assuming there is no settlement, the actual trial is fairly quick.

Lawyer up and tell him to get to the Courthouse ASAP.

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post #4 of 17 (permalink) Old 04-10-2007, 09:15 AM Thread Starter
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I don't have all the receipts in front of me at the moment but the total bill from 4&6 + towing/storage + car deductable + trailer damage = $5k to $6k

I'm assuming any lawyer worth their salt won't take something this small. Is this a poor assumption?

I do have lots of documentation and my position is pretty strong. The other driver was clearly in the wrong, ticketed, and has little to work with.

Edit: Don't plan to go after the insurance co. unless persuing the driver/vehicle owner yeilds nothing. I'm not certain I have a case against the ins. co. either.

Last edited by Troy; 04-10-2007 at 09:18 AM.
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post #5 of 17 (permalink) Old 04-10-2007, 09:18 AM
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I have never been in this situation so I have no experience, but if radio/tv commericials are correct, there are lawyers the work specifically in small claim courts. Maybe someone can recommend a good one for you.
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post #6 of 17 (permalink) Old 04-10-2007, 09:24 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by XXSIVSPD View Post
I don't have all the receipts in front of me at the moment but the total bill from 4&6 + towing/storage + car deductable + trailer damage = $5k to $6k

I'm assuming any lawyer worth their salt won't take something this small. Is this a poor assumption?

I do have lots of documentation and my position is pretty strong. The other driver was clearly in the wrong, ticketed, and has little to work with.
Oddly enough, if it goes to mandatory arbitration, you might be in a better position pro se because the rules of evidence aren't quite as strict, meaning you'll be able to get your documentation into the record. I've seen people come into small claims pro se with documentation, but unable to get it considered because they couldn't get the stuff admitted for any number of procedural reasons. For this sort of thing, any lawyer is better than none because even a not-so-great attorney should know how to get the stuff into the evidentiary record.
If you are intent on doing it yourself, bone up on the procedure. Go to County Farm and make use of their law library. It's free. The librarians are helpful. They won't give you advice or tell you how to do something, but they will show you where to look to find out for yourself.

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post #7 of 17 (permalink) Old 04-10-2007, 09:32 AM
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lawyer in this situation is going to be atleast 1K

you are dealing with a person as a judge, so be sure to write a speech and stick to it!

have a conclusion which wraps up your final poiints of proof. even better if you can go to the courthouse in the county it happened in and go listen and see what the process is like. you just walk in to the court room and take a seat and you can listen.
I went to small claims earlier this year.

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post #8 of 17 (permalink) Old 04-10-2007, 09:33 AM
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correct me if I am wrong, but when it comes to a recovery, you the claimant has first dollar recovery rights. For at least the deductable, state farm is supposed to pay you back, and then the uninsured, underinsured policy handles the difference. Am I wrong in this? as for the bike and trailer, I can't help you on that...

Also remember, with small claims court, you can win the case, but the courts don't force the people to pay. It's up to you to get them to pay, you could probably with a successful verdict take it to collections agent, but now they take so many cents on the dollar.

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post #9 of 17 (permalink) Old 04-10-2007, 09:40 AM
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I wouldn't get a lawyer for small claims. As long as you can back up your claim, that's all you need.

you can always take your casse to judge wapner.

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post #10 of 17 (permalink) Old 04-10-2007, 12:20 PM Thread Starter
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So if I win a small claims suit I still have to figure out a way to collect? What if the insured is a homeowner?
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post #11 of 17 (permalink) Old 04-18-2007, 02:21 PM Thread Starter
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What do I need to do to get things started?
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post #12 of 17 (permalink) Old 04-18-2007, 02:26 PM
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Not to sidetrack you, but i'm confused, Shouldn't your insurance cover uninsured/underinsured drivers?




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post #13 of 17 (permalink) Old 04-18-2007, 02:49 PM Thread Starter
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Yes, and it did on the vehicle but not on the bike or trailer, which were not covered under a policy at the time.
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post #14 of 17 (permalink) Old 04-18-2007, 02:51 PM
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Last time I asked state farm about trailers they said it was covered by whatever vehicle it was connected too.




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post #15 of 17 (permalink) Old 04-18-2007, 03:30 PM Thread Starter
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Maybe things have changed because I now have policies with State Farm on both my trailers. The trailer policies do cover contents, & premiums are super cheap. Not worth going without if you ask me, but I had to learn this lesson the hard way...
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post #16 of 17 (permalink) Old 04-18-2007, 04:27 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by XXSIVSPD View Post
So if I win a small claims suit I still have to figure out a way to collect? What if the insured is a homeowner?
Just because the judge deems them liable, it doesn't mean you will collect any money. If they won't voluntarily pay you, then you will have to hire a lawyer who will try and collect the payment and then you have to pay the lawyer a portion of whatever is collected or a fee upfront depending on the lawyer. Even if you hire a lawyer, it doesn't guarantee you will collect anything, especially if the person you sue doesn't care about their credit rating. Unfortunately, if they own a home, you can't do anything with the home to collect $$. You can't put a lien on the house for such a small amount in IL (at least as of a few years ago). Make sure that if you proceed further, its really worth it to you. You are wasting a ton of time and possibly money for a chance that you won't get anything back. I was out $13,500 last year from a car accident and pretty much every lawyer told me that it's a 50/50 shot that I will ever see a penny back on it and it's not worth the hassle.

Good luck though! I hope you have better results than I did!

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post #17 of 17 (permalink) Old 04-18-2007, 04:43 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by XXSIVSPD View Post
What do I need to do to get things started?
Go to your county's courthouse. They have a special dept for small claims court. Prepare to spend a couple of hundred dollars in getting the process/paperwork done. You, as a plaintiff, basically will have to do everything on your own including serving the subpoena to appear in court(by certified mail or personally hand it to the defendants). Do you have a valid address for these people? If they cooperate and decide to show up in court, you will be given a choice of whether you want to present the case in front of a judge or just in front of a mediator. Good luck.

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