The person or business filing the claim is called the plaintiff. The person or business being sued is called the defendant.
Notifying you of a claim
After the plaintiff files a small claim against you, you’ll be sent a copy of the Statement of Claim and Notice of Trial by first-class mail. If you live out of state, you’ll be notified by certified mail. Both types of notices will be provided by the court after the Statement of Claim and Notice of Trial form is filed.
You need to receive notice for the case to go forward. If the post office isn’t able to notify (serve) you and the letter is returned to the court, the case can’t go forward. If the letter isn’t returned, but is later shown to never have been delivered, or to have been sent to the wrong address, any judgment against you may be vacated (voided).
Answering a claim and counterclaims
You may file a form called Small Claims Answer with the court or send a signed letter to the court stating why the plaintiff shouldn’t win. This "answer" should state the specific parts of the claim that are denied. However, you aren’t required to file an answer. If you choose to file an answer, you must send a copy to the plaintiff.
If you believe that the plaintiff owes you money, you should indicate in your answer, or tell the court and then put it in writing, why the plaintiff owes you money. The plaintiff's original claim and the defendant's claim against the plaintiff (called a counterclaim) may be treated as one case and tried on the date the original claim was scheduled. In the signed letter answer, in a separate letter to the court, or on a form called Small Claims Counterclaim, you may write any claim against the plaintiff that’s within the jurisdiction of small claims court. If you file a written counterclaim, you must send a copy to the plaintiff. The magistrate may also let you explain a counterclaim in court and then put it in writing. Both claims will be treated as one case if the defendant mails a copy of their claim to the plaintiff at least 10 days before the scheduled trial date, or if the magistrate orders that they be treated this way. Counterclaims aren’t required. The plaintiff doesn’t need to file a written answer to your counterclaim.
Additional Resources for Answering a claim and counterclaims
If you agree to the money owed, you should contact the plaintiff and arrange to make payment. If you agree to the money owed but need time to pay, you should contact the plaintiff and try to reach an agreement for a payment schedule.
You aren’t required to make any payments from exempt income. If a full payment isn’t made before the trial date, both the plaintiff and defendant must appear in court on the trial date unless they submit an Agreement for Judgment and for Payment Order signed by both parties before the trial date. The court will only accept an agreement between the parties if it’s submitted on the official Agreement for Judgment and for Payment Order form. If the plaintiff and defendant only reach an agreement on the trial date, they should then both sign the form and submit it to the court.
If the parties aren’t able to reach an agreement for a payment schedule, you must complete a Financial Statement of Judgment Debtor and explain your reasons for requesting time to pay to the magistrate.
If you don’t agree to the money owed, or don’t agree to the entire amount of money owed, you must appear in court on the trial date. You'll be able to challenge how the plaintiff decided on the amount claimed.