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Illinois Small Claims - When Should you Sue?

May 27, 2019

We have a lot of people who ask us for help with a case that is for a relatively small dollar amount. Do not get us wrong, if someone owes you $2,000 that is real money. However, we feel it is unethical to have the attorney's fees and costs possibly end up being more than the amount you are seeking. Because we care, it presents a challenge.

For example, let's say you have a car worth $2,000 and it will not start. You take it to a mechanic to get it fixed. You do not want a bill for $3,000 for a new engine. I had this happen one time and the (reputable) mechanic told me "I am sorry, but you do not want to put any more money into this car." While I was upset that I had to endure the injustice of my car becoming worthless overnight, I was happy that I had someone whom I could trust to put my interest over his. In the legal field, we speak to many people who have a similar situation and we hope that by giving the bad news straight, we earn their trust in the future. As I take all my newer cars to the same mechanic, we hope to have people return to us when the investment of our time makes financial sense for them.

I know what you are probably thinking, surely there must be something can be done to get my money back. Well, there is and here is what experience teaches. Phone calls and emails are usually ignored. I recommend investing in an overnight package and detail in chronological order what transpired in a business-like fashion. I suggest stating that you (spoke to) but do not want to get lawyers involved and make a specific demand for what you want. People just can not resist opening a FedEx. It usually goes to a decision-maker and who knows?

Often times, we are asked to write these demand letters. They usually require about an hour of time and make the demand more serious. While we often get a matter resolved by a demand letter, there are many times when we do not hear back either.

So what to do next? There are a couple of options. First, you could call a collection agency, but by the time you arrange that contract and take all those steps, you may have been better off devoting your attention to other matters. The second is to file a case in court. If you are a corporation you must have an attorney represent you. However, people can represent themselves. If you made a demand you can use that to draft the complaint, but it still takes some time. If the case is smaller you still need to pay the fees (albeit slower) and serve the defendant (maybe easier). After that, it proceeds much like a larger case. You still may need to go to a trial. Just so you know, if you handle the case on your own, you are expected to know all the rules just like a lawyer. The possibility of making a mistake as to jurisdiction, service, notice, evidence or something else is very real. What is also real is it can take an enormous amount of time. For example. in Chicago, the court that hears smaller cases has a tremendous workload. I remember being number 122 on the call for a status hearing. Depending on your defendant, you could go back five-six times before trial. And it gets worse. Here is the part people do not know about. Even if you win, you still have to try and collect. We have twenty years of experience in collecting judgments and we have numerous judgment debtors (>$200,000) that we can not get to pay. The question arises, what price glory when seeking $2,000?

If your case included an attorney's fees provision or a confession of judgment clause, the analysis is totally different. (This is why we help draft contracts too.)

Unfortunately, sometimes it just does not make financial sense to hire an attorney and file a case. Believe us, it would be easier to just collect the fees and proceed like your matter was any other case. However, we want to make our legal service make financial sense for our clients. It's how we roll. So if you are told the bad news that proceeding with your case does not make sense, the best thing maybe, despite the injustice of it all, consider that matter to be similar to the car that has become worthless.