What is a Small Claims Summons?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A small claims summons is a formal legal notice alerting someone to the fact that a case has been filed in small claims court and that person is the subject of the case. The summons is delivered to give people an opportunity to respond, either by consulting a lawyer and attempting to reach a settlement before the court date, or by appearing in court to contest the case. Failure to respond to a small claims summons will result in having an judgment automatically entered against you.

A defendant has 21 days to file a response after a plaintiff files a summons and complaint in court.
A defendant has 21 days to file a response after a plaintiff files a summons and complaint in court.

Before people take cases to small claims court, they are often advised to write a demand letter. Demand letters clearly spell out the facts of the case, with supporting documentation, and then make a simple demand, such as asking for restitution. The letter notes that if the demand is not met, a case will be filed in small claims court. Many cases are resolved with such letters, as people may not want to deal with going to court. Such letters can be drafted with or without the assistance of an attorney and they can also be used as evidence in the case.

A well-written demand letter often helps people avoid small claims court.
A well-written demand letter often helps people avoid small claims court.

When a case is filed in court, contact information for the respondent is included. The person filing the case pays a fee to have the summons served on the respondent. If a summons is received in error, people should immediately contact the court to clear the matter up. Sometimes process servers identify the wrong person as the subject of a summons or other mixups happen. It is important to not simply ignore the summons, but to respond to it and alert the court to the fact that the recipient of the summons was not the intended respondent.

The majority of small claims cases are settled outside of court.
The majority of small claims cases are settled outside of court.

The small claims summons will tell the respondent that he is being sued and provide information about where and when the case will be heard in court. Contact information for the plaintiff's legal counsel is provided so the respondent can contact the attorney to discuss the matter, if desired. The document should also include contact information for the court and people can file documents in response to a small claims summons, including a request to move or change the court date if it creates a hardship.

A small claims summons should be read carefully to understand the case and what the plaintiff is expecting to get out of having the case heard in court. Working out a settlement through attorneys can be the most cost-effective method of resolving the issue but if the case does go to court, respondents should compile information to support their arguments. They can also call witnesses and have the right to examine witnesses and evidence provided by the plaintiff.

If a defendant is unable to appear in court for a summons, he or she must file for a continuance in a timely manner.
If a defendant is unable to appear in court for a summons, he or she must file for a continuance in a timely manner.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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