The information contained here is intended to address the most frequently asked questions. It is not comprehensive and should not be construed as legal advice. Those in need of legal advice should consult an attorney.
How Do I Get Started?
First, you will need to determine where you wish your case to be heard. A claim can be filed in any King County District Court location, however, small claims trials are only heard in Auburn, Burien, Issaquah, Seattle, Shoreline and Vashon. Where you wish to have your claim heard is your decision as long as other jurisdictional requirements apply. In the case of a traffic accident, or an unlawfully issued check, small claims cases will be filed in the county or division where the accident occurred or check was issued. Other jurisdictional questions will be answered by a review of RCW 3.66.040. (external link) You will need to appear in person at the location you wish your claim to be heard and bring the Name, Street Address and Phone Number (if available) of the individual, business, partnership or corporation you wish to sue. If you wish to receive electronic copies of the Notice of Small Claims and instructions, please refer to the General Information section for the forms.(See below for further details on suing a corporation or partnership).
Second, you will prepare a Notice of Small Claim form that is provided by the clerk. On the Notice form a hearing date, trial date, or response date will be entered by the clerk. After filing the claim with the court, you may take advantage of mediation through the King County Dispute Resolution Center. Click here (external link) for more information.
How Do I File Against a Corporation?
Because many corporations do business under an assumed trade name, you must have the correct name and address of the Corporation you wish to sue: i.e., XYZ Co., Inc. (or incorporated, or Ltd.).
In order to obtain service, you must have the name of the Office Manager, Corporate President, Secretary, Cashier, Managing Agent or Registered Agent. If you do not have this information, you may contact the Secretary of the State, Division of Corporate Records, in Olympia at 360-725-0377, Monday to Friday between 8:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m., or log onto their web site by clicking here (external link).
You may file your small claim action in the district court division where the corporation does business, the division in which the corporate office is located, or the division where the Registered Agent is located. (RCW 3.66.040(6)).
When completing the Notice of Small Claim you should list the corporation name and the office address OR the name and address of the Registered Agent.
Service on a corporation is obtained by serving the Registered Agent, Corporate President, Secretary, Treasurer, Managing Agent, OR the Secretary or Office Assistant of the President, Secretary, Treasurer, or Managing Agent. (RCW 23B.05.040; 4.28.080).
How Do I File Against a Sole Proprietorship, Partnership or a DBA?
You must name as defendant the individual partner, partners or in the case of a sole proprietorship, the owner of the non-incorporated company.
If you do not have the information, you may call the City or County Business License Office where the business is located.
When completing the Notice of Small Claim, you must list the Partner/Owner names and addresses with the DBA (company name).
You may file your small claim against a partnership or sole proprietorship in the district court division where one of the partners or sole proprietor resides, or where the business is located.
How Much Does It Cost?
You must pay the court clerk a filing fee of $35 (effective 7/1/2009) at the time the suit is filed. You may have some additional fees payable to the sheriff or process server to have the Notice of Small Claims served on the defendant. As an alternative, you may serve the suit by registered or certified mail, return receipt mailing. If you win your case, you are entitled to recover your costs of filing and service fees. (See "Serving The Notice" below).
Serving the Notice
The clerk will assist you with all the steps and procedures of starting a suit. The clerk is not allowed to give legal advice or attempt to predict how the judge might rule in a given situation. 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 served upon the defendant. Service of the claim form can be accomplished by any of the following:
1. The Sheriff's Office: 206-296-3800;
2. A process server;
3. Any person of legal age (18) who is not connected with the case either as a witness or as a party; or
4. By mailing the copies to the defendant by registered or certified mail with a return receipt requested. With mail service, you must file the postal receipt bearing the defendant's signature with the court. (You may wish to send by restricted delivery).
You cannot personally serve the copies of your claim form. Except for certain landlord-tenant cases (RCW 59.18.060) service on an out-of-state defendant is not allowed.
The Notice of Small Claim must be served on the defendant not less than ten (10) days before the first hearing.
After service (other than mail service) is completed, an affidavit of service must be signed by the server and filed with the court. An affidavit of service states in writing the following:
1. The date the Claim form was served.
2. Upon whom it was served.
3. Address where served.
4. The name of the person who did the serving. The person who does the service must sign an affidavit before a Notary Public, or sign a certification in lieu of a notarized statement.
What If We Settle?
In most cases, neither party is one hundred percent right nor wrong. You are encouraged to try to settle your case before trial. A trained mediator is present the day of your trial and is available to meet with parties involved in the dispute. For more information call the Dispute Resolution Center at 206-443-9603. If you settle the dispute before the hearing, you must inform the court so the hearing can be canceled and your case dismissed. If the other party agrees to pay at a later date, you may ask the court for a continuance. If the other party pays before the postponed date, as the court to cancel the hearing. If you do not receive your money by the time of the continued hearing, proceed with the case in court. If you drop the suit, your filing fee and service costs are not returned.
Preparing For The Trial
You can help yourself by being well prepared. To prepare for the trial, collect all papers, photographs, receipts, estimates, cancelled checks, or other documents that concern the case. It may be helpful to write down ahead of time the facts of the case in order that they occurred. This will help you to organize your thoughts and to make a clear presentation of your story to the judge.
It is also a good idea to sit through a small claims court session before the date of your hearing. This will give you first-hand information about the way small claims cases are heard.