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Civil remedies for cabdrivers to pursue without a lawyer

By Donald S Nathan Esq - Posted on 15 June 2008

Not all wrongs done to cabdrivers need professional help. This series of articles deals with ways drivers can help themselves when they run into trouble without hunting out someone to speak for them. Even if English is a second or third language, there are places to win without assistance.

Small Claims Court

Often a cabdriver has a fender bender where there is little damage. Maybe it’s as little as $1,000. But the typical owner has a policy of holding back a bond: $200 or even $500. That bond is enough to make anybody want to go for the throat of the other driver if he’s clearly responsible for a crash. There’s a place to do it - for cheap - and quickly. That place is the Pro Se Court in Room 1308 of the Richard J. Daley Civic Center.

The filing fee varies with the amount being requested. The complaint can be prepared by a law student for free on the sixth floor where it gets filed, and the work done is pretty much as good as what any licensed lawyer might do.

Once filed the lawsuit has to be served. It can be served by certified mail for about another $16. Of course, if the defendant is unlikely to pick up certified mail, a cabdriver can spend $60 to have a Deputy Sheriff serve the complaint anywhere in Cook County, but they fail to get defendants served at least half of the time.

If the Certified Mail delivery of the lawsuit does not get the defendant served (you have to check to see if it did get picked up; it can be done on the Internet web page of the Clerk of the Circuit Court), you have to turn to a Private Detective. When you go before your judge to report on the status of the case, you can ask him to appoint one of these agencies called “Special Process Servers.” An order has to be prepared that does this, and some help is going to be given to you in the Pro Se court in doing this.

With the judge’s order, you have to go down to the 6th floor again and prepare with some help at the counter at the east side of the building an “Alias Summons”. Once it is ready, you take it to the west side of the building to get the Seal of the Clerk of the Court for which you pay $6.00. At this point, you take your sealed Alias Summons and a copy of your complaint to your Special Process Server; they are all the same in the service they give and about the same in price: about $55 whether successful or not, but their people usually hit the first time.

Once you get the defendant served, things move quickly. The judge will tolerate one continuance, maybe two, but he or she is unlikely to allow three. Trial follows without delay as long as you are asking for less than $10,000. The only complication would be if the defendant asks for a jury trial. That would take the case out of the Pro Se room to another court. The cost of a request for a jury is very small: it is only $12,50 for a six person jury and $25 for a 12 person jury. Bad insurance companies demand juries so as to get the case out of the Pro Se courtroom and so as to stall it as much as possible.

In the event you get a jury demand made by a lawyer for an insurance company, you better get yourself a lawyer to represent you. Otherwise, you should get ready to go forward with your trial. And it is not as complicated as you would think. In the Pro Se court, the judge will hear evidence much less formally than will judges in other courtrooms.

Of course, complete hearsay is not going to be allowed, but if you bring a witness to tell the judge what happened, you are not going to have to have all the questions written out on a pad of paper in advance. The judge will let your witness tell the story all at once and without interruption even if there is another lawyer there. And if the facts are more in your favor than not, you are definitely going to win a judgment.