How to Initiate a Case in Small Claims Court

Small claims court provides a place where you can recover up to $5,000 (plus court costs) in an informal setting, and without a lawyer. It's a good idea to file any lawsuit within a year of the date payment was due, although in many cases, you have at least two years in which to file. When you have several claims against the same defendant you can sue separately for each claim. This will cost you more in court fees, but you will recover those fees if you win.

Before you go to the courthouse:

  • Collect the complete names and addresses of each person or business you are suing. 
  • Determine the amount of damages you will claim. Make sure to include all of the costs you incurred in bringing the suit.
  • Write a concise statement of the basis for your claim. State plainly, and without technicalities, all of the information relevant to your case.
  • Call the correct justice of the peace to find out how much money you will need to bring with you to pay the fees necessary to start your lawsuit and what type of payment is accepted (most courts do not accept personal checks). You will have to decide if you want a jury trial or not, as the fees are more.
  • Determine the exact date of service to the defendant. In most courts it is used to calculate the trial date.
  • Ask the court clerk the exact procedure you are to follow in his or her court. Each small claims court has a slightly different way of doing things.

Initiate your case:

  • Once you've paid the fee to start your lawsuit, ask the clerk to prepare a small claims statement for you (in court, you must swear under oath that your small claims statement is true).
  • Ask the clerk how the court sets the trial date and find out how the defendant will be notified. If you are responsible for notification, send the defendant a letter by certified mail, return receipt requested, giving him or her notice of the trial date. In any case, always verify the trial date with the clerk.
  • Find out your case number and write it down. Keep this number for future reference.
  • No matter how the defendant is served, call the clerk after two weeks to make sure everything went okay. If more than two weeks have gone by without the defendant being served, start calling the sheriff or constable responsible for service until you know the citation has been served.

NOTICE:  The Office of the General Counsel of the Texas Medical Association provides this information with the express understanding that 1) no attorney-client relationship exists, 2) neither TMA nor its attorneys are engaged in providing legal advice and 3) that the information is of a general character.  You should not rely on this information when dealing with personal legal matters; rather legal advice from retained legal counsel should be sought.  

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