What to Do If You Have Been Sued

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If you are sued, you will be notified when you receive a copy of the Small Claims complaint and summons by certified mail or by hand delivery from the Sheriff or other authorized person to you/a member of your household 13 years of age or older.

The complaint will tell you the reason you are being sued and the amount claimed. The summons will tell you when and where to file your Appearance and will notify you of the Return Date. DO NOT IGNORE THE SUMMONS. If you do nothing in response to the summons, the court may award the plaintiff the amount claimed in the complaint plus court costs. If you change your address or phone number after you file your Appearance, be certain to notify the clerk and the opposing party of your new address by completing a Change of Address form. 

If you admit owing the amount claimed, one option is to contact the plaintiff to settle the case out of court. You may be able to avoid a judgment being entered on the court records against your name. If you can’t pay the whole amount in one lump sum, perhaps you both can agree to smaller payments over a period of time.

If you file an Appearance before the Return Date as directed on the summons, a trial will be set automatically in 14 days, and you do not have to appear on the Return Date. You will have to mail a copy of your Appearance to the plaintiff.

If you attend court on the Return Date, the Judge will ask you to make some decisions about how you want to proceed:

  1. Agreement: If you agree with the plaintiff that you owe the amount of money the plaintiff claims you owe, or if you and the plaintiff reach an agreement on a different amount, you can agree to a Judgment being entered against you for the Judge to sign.
  2. Mediation: If you and the plaintiff want to discuss the amount of money you owe and want to come to an agreement without the assistance of the Judge, you and the plaintiff can use mediation to resolve your dispute. Small Claims Mediators are members of the Lake County Bar Association who are professionally trained to help people talk about their disputes and find reasonable ways to resolve conflict during the Thursday morning (starting at 9:00 am) and Thursday afternoon (starting at 1:30 pm) call. The mediation program is voluntary, and the objective of the mediation is to resolve the case short of going to trial. If mediation is unsuccessful, the matter will proceed to trial.
  3. Disagreement: If you do not agree with the Plaintiff’s claim or the amount the Plaintiff claims you owe, you may file your Appearance on the Return Date, and the judge will set the case for trial. If the case is set for trial and you don’t come back to tell the court your side, a judgment may be entered against you even in your absence.
  4. Counterclaim: If you claim that the plaintiff owes you money as a result of the same transaction on which they base their claim, you may file a lawsuit called a counterclaim against them. You will have to pay a fee to file a counterclaim. The person filing the counterclaim is known as the counter-plaintiff and the person being sued is known as the counter-defendant. There is not a ready-to-use form for a counterclaim. You can visit the Law Library and Center for Self-Representation in the courthouse to find examples from form books and Illinois practice materials.