Small claims court is for legal disputes over small amounts of money (less than $6,000). Cases in small claims court may be simpler and faster than other court cases.
If someone files a small claim against you, the court sends you an official notice called a summons. The summons and attached complaint includes the:
- Plaintiff’s name and address (the plaintiff is the person who filed the case against you)
- Reason for the claim
- Court’s name and address
- Hearing’s date and time
Responding to a small claims case
Small claims court can be more relaxed than other types of court cases, and because of this, the rules on how you must respond are different in each court.
In most Ohio courts, you are not required to file an “Answer” or a written response to the small claims lawsuit to defend yourself against it. However, some courts do require you to file an answer, and you can decide to file an answer even if the court doesn’t require it.
To find out if you are required to file an answer to defend your case, read the summons carefully and pay attention to any filing deadlines. You should also check the court’s local rules for a section on small claims to see if defendants in small claims cases are required to file an answer. You can find the court’s local rules on this list from the Supreme Court of Ohio.
If the complaint has numbered paragraphs, you will need to respond to each numbered paragraph of the complaint. Review each paragraph carefully and then follow the simple rules below:
- “Admit” if you agree with every part of paragraph.
- “Deny” if you disagree with any part of a paragraph.
- Respond “I don’t have enough information to answer” if you don’t know whether that paragraph is true.
Don’t guess, it’s ok not to know or to deny. If you are filing an answer to the complaint, you can use this template to create your answer.
If the complaint does not have numbered paragraphs, you can respond by writing why you disagree with the plaintiff and why you don't owe the amount requested for in the complaint. You can use this template to create your answer.
It can be hard to work through this without a lawyer. If you can, try to find a lawyer to help you.
Hiring a lawyer for small claims court
You are not required to hire a lawyer to go to small claims court. However, a lawyer may be helpful.
Corporations and LLCs or a person representing a corporation or LLC (like a manager of a rental management company) should always consult with a lawyer before going to small claims court. If a non-lawyer represents a corporation in court, it could be considered illegal unauthorized practice of law.
Attending the hearing
Whether or not you are required to file an answer, you must go to the hearing. If you miss the hearing, you may lose the case automatically.
Before your hearing date, the court may provide a mediator to help resolve your dispute. It is a good idea to use the mediator to see if you can resolve the dispute quickly.
Before the hearing, prepare your evidence, including printed copies of any documents, emails texts or photos, and any witnesses you may have.
At the hearing, the judge or magistrate will give you and the plaintiff an opportunity to present your side of the case. Be polite. Answer the judge’s questions calmly.
Learn more about what to expect at a court hearing.