Small claims courts are courts of limited jurisdiction that are designed to hear civil cases between private litigants. Their purpose is to prevent clogging up the formal court system with relatively petty matters through a less formal forum. Small claims courts also limit the judgments awarded. This limit is generally set at $5,000 – though it may vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.
The rules of civil procedure and evidence are typically simplified in small claims proceedings to allow non-lawyers to litigate their matters without the help of a costly attorney. Formal and costly procedures such as depositions are not allowed in small claims, and generally speaking, neither is a trial by jury.
Filing Small Claims in King County, Washington
Any individual over 18 years of age can file in King County Small Claims Court for damages of up to $5,000. You may bring an action in King County if the defendant resides there, the cause of action occurred there, or any property involved with the action is located there. You may file the appropriate forms at any King County courthouse if you meet the jurisdictional requirements.
Electronic packets are available for each of the courthouses in King County – Issaquah, Renton, Seattle, Shoreline, and Vashon. However, all small claims hearings scheduled in the Kent Courthouse are heard in the Renton Courthouse. Cases are usually heard between 40 and 90 days from filing. You will receive the date of your hearing when you file. You should also be aware of the applicable statutes of limitation for your particular claim – the details of which can be found here.
There is a court fee of $35 to file your small claim. A portion of this fee goes to funding the King County Dispute Resolution Center, which provides free mediation services prior to the court date.
After you file, the next step is to serve the defendant. You must have the Notice of Small Claim, a copy of the Notice Regarding Active Duty in Military Service, and a copy of the Dispute Resolution Center’s materials to serve upon the defendant. In the case of filing a claim against a business, the process depends on if it is incorporated. If it is incorporated, you have to include the name under which it is incorporated as well as a name and address of either a corporate officer or the registered agent. If you have trouble finding this information, you may contact the Corporations Division of the Washington Secretary of State’s office.
This service may be completed in one of four ways. You can have the Sheriff’s Office, who can be contacted at: 206-296-3800, complete service for a fee. You may also contact a professional process server, or hire any person 18 years or older who is not connected to the case in any way to personally serve the defendant. However, you may not execute personal service on an out of state defendant. You may also execute service by mailing copies to the defendant by registered or certified mail with a return receipt requested, in which case you must file the postal receipt with the defendant’s signature with the court so restricted delivery is a good idea.
For more information about the King County small claims process, visit the court’s website.