How to Prepare, File and Serve a Claim
How Do I Get Started?
First you will prepare a Notice of Small Claim form. You can obtain the form in person at any King County courthouse or download Notice of Small claim form. It is the plaintiff’s responsibility to accurately identify the defendant(s), provide a proper address and, if possible, a phone number.
After you fully complete the Notice of Small Claim form, you must sign and date the form under penalty of perjury. The clerk will enter the court hearing date, time, and location on the form.The clerk will prepare a packet for you and a separate packet for each defendant. You must serve each defendant with the following documents:
- Your written Notice of Small Claim
- Notice to Service Members and their Dependents
If you choose to file a small claim case with the Court by mail, follow these instructions:
- The original of your completed Notice of Small Claim must be returned to the Court with a check or money order in the amount of $50.00 payable to King County District Court.
- Include a large (9” x 12”), self-addressed, stamped envelope with $1.42 cents postage. Upon receipt of the Notice of Small Claim form and correct fee, the Court will assign a case number and hearing date to the form and, using the self-addressed, stamped envelope, send the plaintiff packets for the plaintiff and each defendant with the following documents:
- Notice of Small Claim
- Notice to Service Members and their Dependents
Serving the Notice of Small Claim
The clerk will assist you with forms and general information about the process. The clerk is not allowed to give legal advice. Service of the Notice of Small Claim form can be accomplished by any of the following:
- The Sheriff's Office: (206) 263-2600 Civil.KCSO@kingcounty.gov
- A process server;
- Any person of legal age (18) who is not connected with the case either as a witness or as a party; or
- By mailing the copies to the defendant by registered or certified mail with a return receipt (e-delivery/green card) requested.
The Notice of Small Claim must be served promptly after filing the claim. Service must be complete at least ten (10) days before the first hearing for all cases except those involving out of state landlords. A return of service, or mail return receipt bearing the defendant's signature, must be filed at or before the time of the first hearing.
You cannot personally serve the claim. See RCW Chapters 4.28 and 12.40, 59.18, and CRLJ 5 for more detailed information.
When will the case be heard?
Cases are generally heard between 40 and 90 days from the date of filing. You will be given a date and time to appear for your hearing. There will be other small claims hearings scheduled for the same date and time as yours. Due to the large volume of small claim cases, the Court cannot accommodate requests for specific hearing dates.
In many cases, neither party is one hundred percent right or wrong. Therefore, you are encouraged to try to settle your case before trial by participating in mediation.
What If We Settle?
If you settle the dispute before the hearing date, and the settlement is paid, you (the plaintiff) must inform the Court in writing 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, ask the Court to cancel the hearing and to dismiss your case. 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 Pre-trial Hearing
In some courthouse locations, your case will initially be set for a pre-trial hearing. All parties are required to appear at the pre-trial hearing unless otherwise instructed by the Court. Bring written proof of service of the Notice of Small Claim to the pre-trial hearing and 2 (two) copies of any evidence supporting the party’s claim or defense. You will be asked to provide one of those copies to the opposing party. For example: statements, receipts, invoices, photographs, electronic files.
These documents help the other party understand your position and concerns, and allow the parties to make informed decisions, knowing the evidence that will be presented at a trial.
The trial will not occur on the pre-trial hearing date. Witnesses are not needed for the pre-trial hearing. The District Court requires all small claim parties to participate in a mediation session, prior to a case being set for trial. If the parties cannot resolve the dispute through mediation, the Court will set a trial date.
If the parties do reach an agreement, the mediator will write down the details of the parties’ agreement in their own words. Both parties will sign the agreement and receive copies. The parties will ask the Court to dismiss the case.
If the other party does not appear at the pre-trial hearing, the judge will review the case to determine whether there was proper service. If service was proper the judge may hear evidence and enter a judgment against the person who did not appear, dismiss the case, or continue the case to another date.
Preparing For the Trial
You can help yourself by being well prepared. To prepare for the trial, collect all papers, photographs, receipts, estimates, canceled checks, or other documents relevant to your case. To be considered, your evidence must be admitted and is kept by the Court until the case is finally resolved. If your case has not gone through pre-trial mediation, bring the original and 2 (two) copies of any evidence supporting the party’s claim or defense to the trial. If you’ve already provided your evidence to the opposing party at the pre-trial mediation, bring the original and 1 (one) copy for the Court. You may bring witnesses with you to the trial.
Be prepared to make a clear and concise presentation of your story to the judge. Time is often limited in small claims trials. 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 claim cases are heard.