What is a lawsuit?
A lawsuit asks the court to force someone to do something, like pay money or move out of an apartment. There are many different types of lawsuits that a person can bring.
Usually, the person that starts the lawsuit is called the plaintiff, and the person they sue is called the defendant. A person can sue multiple people in one lawsuit. They can also sue businesses or government officials.
Deciding who to sue in a lawsuit
Before filing a lawsuit, the plaintiff must decide who to sue, and in what capacity the defendant should be sued. This is not difficult when the plaintiff wants to sue an individual person, but suing a business can be more complicated.
Suing a person
A lawsuit should state the individual's full name. For example: David D. Donalds. A person should not use initials or titles, such as Mr. Donalds or Mrs. David Donalds, as they are not specific enough to name a defendant.
Suing two or more people
If the plaintiff is suing based on an event or set of facts that is the same against 2 or more individuals, they should name all defendants as parties in the same lawsuit. For example: David D. Donalds and Debbie Donalds.
Individuals with more than one name
Occasionally individuals are known by more than one name. In this case both of the names should be listed. This may be done by using the abbreviations a/k/a (also known as) and f/k/a (formerly known as). For example: where David Donalds regularly uses the name Joe Jones, the plaintiff would name the defendant as David Donalds a/k/a Joe Jones. Where Debbie Smith was unmarried at the time of the incident, but is now married to David Donalds, the plaintiff would name the defendant as Debbie Donalds f/k/a Debbie Smith.
Suing a business or company
When suing a business, a person needs to have both the legal name of the business, and the name of the registered agent that represents the business. Sometimes, the owner of the business will be the registered agent of the business. A person will also need the address of the registered agent in order to properly serve the company with a lawsuit.
First, a person must figure out if the business is incorporated or licensed in the state. If a business is incorporated, they will need the name and address of the registered agent.
Businesses usually have their own attorney. However, they may defend small claims lawsuits for less than $1,500 through a representative of the company.
To find out if a business is a corporation, and to find out its legal name, a person can look through the Certified List of Domestic and Foreign Corporations. They may search the list by calling the Illinois Secretary of State's Incorporation Division at (217) 782-6961.
A person can also search the online databases of the Secretary of the State of Illinois.
- Begin by conducting a keyword search of the Corporate/LLC Database. If the business does not show up there, conduct a KEYWORD search of the LP/LLP Database.
- On the search results, click the name of the business that best matches the business. Information about the business will now appear on the screen.
- Write down the Entity Name of the corporation. List the Entity Name as the defendant in the lawsuit. Next, write down the name and address of the agent. This is the registered agent for the business in the state, and the person who must be served with the summons for the lawsuit. Be careful to write down the address listed in the section marked agent. Some individuals will have one address as an agent, and a separate address as an officer.
If the business is not in these databases or on the Certified List of Domestic and Foreign Corporations, it is likely that the business is not incorporated and instead operates as a sole proprietorship or a general partnership.
When a business is not incorporated, a person should name the owner of the business and the business itself as the defendant. This can be done by using the abbreviation d/b/a (doing business as). For example: If David and Debbie Donalds are operating as an unincorporated business called Plaza Shop, the plaintiff should name the defendants as David Donalds and Debbie Donalds d/b/a Plaza shop.
To find the names of the owners of a business, first look at any business cards, invoices, or other documents you might have from the business. If the name of the owner or owners is still not clear, contact the local Chamber of Commerce or County Clerk's Office and ask to check the Assumed Name Index. For Cook County, contact (312) 603-5652. If the business is a sole proprietorship, the summons should go to the owner. If the business is a general partnership, any partner may be served a summons.
Filing a case in federal court
Federal courts can only hear certain kinds of cases. These include cases about:
- Federal law
- The United States Constitution
- International Treaties
- Diversity of Citizenship. This means that each side in the lawsuit is from a different state. The amount of money the lawsuit is for must be more than $75,000 for a diversity case.
If there is diversity of citizenship, a person may file a case based on a state law in the federal court. If a person files a case based on federal law or the U.S. Constitution, they may be able to add a state law claim to their case. It must be based on the same facts and circumstances as the federal claim.
If somebody is sued in federal court, they still have to decide whether the case belongs there. If it does not, they can ask to dismiss the complaint against them. If a case does not belong in federal court, it can usually be filed in state court.
Recovering money without suing
If someone owes a person money, and won't pay it, the person can be taken to court. The two people can also settle the dispute by agreement without going to court.
For example, the parties can use mediation or arbitration. In mediation, a third party asks the parties questions to try and get them to come to an agreement on their own. The mediator can also make suggestions for ways to settle the dispute. In arbitration, a third party hears both sides, and makes a decision, just like a judge would. However, the parties are usually not required to accept the decision.
Some private organizations, like the Better Business Bureau, or the Chamber of Commerce, may try to help resolve disputes. However, those are private organizations and can't make anyone do anything.
The Illinois Attorney General's office (AG), and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), also can mediate consumer disputes. They also can file a lawsuit when many people are affected. But like mediators, if the AG or FTC can't resolve a dispute by agreement, a person is on their own.
If someone owes money and won't pay voluntarily, a person's only alternative is to file a lawsuit. Only a judge can make someone pay.
A person will need to prove their case in court in order to get the money back. They must present evidence about any damage, repairs, and costs. A person can have witnesses describe the damage, present pictures and paid receipts, or any other proof of payments. Estimates will probably not be good enough without other evidence.
Filing a complaint
A person who files a lawsuit is called the plaintiff (or petitioner). They will need to file certain forms depending on the type of case they are bringing. To start a lawsuit, a person will need to file a complaint with the circuit clerk's office.
The complaint tells a person what a lawsuit is about. It also says the following:
- All of the relevant facts that support plaintiff's claims
- Laws that support the plaintiff's claims
- What the plaintiff is asking for
Circuit court clerks have many court forms available at their offices or online. A person can contact their clerk's office by visiting the Illinois courts' website.
Serving a summons
Find out more information about serving a summons.
Costs of filing a lawsuit
See above for information about the costs of filing a lawsuit. The costs are different depending on your type of case.
Appealing a case
Learn more about appealing a case.
If you win a lawsuit
If you are the plaintiff in a lawsuit and you win, there will be an order signed by the judge saying exactly what the other party has to do.
Usually, the other party must give you money. This is called a money judgment. If they don't give you the money, you can try to garnish their wages or collect on their property.
Sometimes, the order says that the other party has to do something other than give you money. For example, they have to move out of an apartment, or allow you to spend time with a child. If they don't follow the order, you can ask the judge to order them to follow it.
Updated: January 2017