My contractor didn’t finish the work for which I paid him. Can I take him to small claims court?

The simple answer is “yes.” However, the following information comes from the Department of Labor and Industries and may have a bearing on how you want to proceed. If you do not sue the contractor in the manner described below you will not be able to attach the contractor’s bond though other collection methods will still be available. Read the following and review the pdf document at the bottom of this page.

To file suit against a contractor, file a Summons & Complaint

Before filing a lawsuit, ask yourself:

  • Have you provided the contractor with a written list of your complaints and needs, including a deadline for them to respond to you?
  • Have you considered free or low-cost mediation?

If necessary, you can file suit — with or without an attorney — by doing the following:

  1. Expand/collapse Obtain a Summons & Complaint form.

    L&I does not supply these forms. They may be found on some, but not all, court Web sites, clerks’ offices, or for purchase in office supply or stationery stores. Call ahead to make sure they are available. The forms can be hard to find. Also, if you get your forms from an office supply store, call the Superior Court to make sure the store’s form covers the requirements of your suit.

  2. Expand/collapse Complete the form as directed.

    You can include any legal fees, court costs or interest in the summons and complaint.

    To collect from the contractor’s bond, you need to name the bond company as a defendant, and include the contractor’s bond number on the form. Be sure to include: the contractor’s business name, all owners, the business address and contractor registration number. If an assignment of savings is on file instead of a bond, you need to list the bank name and account number in your complaint.

    Get all the necessary information on the contractor, their bond and bond company, at Look Up: Contractors or Tradespeople.

  3. Expand/collapse File your form with the Superior Court in the county where the work was done.

    The court will charge a filing fee of approximately $200.00 and will stamp the form with a cause number.

  4. Expand/collapse Have your summons and complaint served — a legal must.

    A. To serve the contractor’s bond: You must send to L&I three copies of your Summons & Complaint form. Include a $50 check made out to the Department of Labor & Industries—the processing fee. Send by certified or registered mail to:
    Department of Labor & Industries
    Contractor Registration
    PO Box 44450
    Olympia, WA 98504-4450.

    B. L&I will serve the contractor and the bond company with the lawsuit.

    C. To serve the contractor and/or his business you will need additional copies of the summons and complaint served through a third party. See the phone book for process servers.

    D. L&I will send copies of the transmittal letters back to you as proof of the contractor having been served. The suit is only for the amount available in the surety bond.

    E. Keep a copy of the Summons & Complaint for your records.

    F. When your case concludes, if you win, you must send a copy of the Judgment and Order to Labor & Industries within 10 days of the judgment or settlement. If the contractor wins, they are responsible for sending us a copy of the settlement or judgment within 10 days.

Once these steps are complete, L&I will no longer be involved with the case, other than as a record keeper.

Note: This information is intended to be a general statement of small claims procedure. For more detailed information, please consult applicable provisions of the Revised Code of Washington (RCW), Chapters 3.66, 4.16, 4.28, 12.40, and applicable provisions in the Civil Rules for Courts of Limited Jurisdiction, Rule 5 (CRLJ 5). RCWs and court rules can also be found at your local library. To contact a court directly, search our Court Directory.

What to Do if You Want to File Suit Against Your Construction Contractor

What is the cost of filing a small claims action in Whatcom County?

The filing fee is $29.

This is more than in some other counties because the court partners with the Whatcom Dispute Resolution Center in an effort to settle cases before they come to trial.

Note: This information is intended to be a general statement of small claims procedure. For more detailed information, please consult applicable provisions of the Revised Code of Washington (RCW), Chapters 3.66, 4.16, 4.28, 12.40, and applicable provisions in the Civil Rules for Courts of Limited Jurisdiction, Rule 5 (CRLJ 5). RCWs and court rules can also be found at your local library. To contact a court directly, search our Court Directory.

Wrongful Death

The taking of the life of an individual resulting from the willful or negligent act of another person or persons. If a person is killed because of the wrongful conduct of a person or persons, the decedent’s heirs and other beneficiaries may file a wrongful death action against those responsible for the decedent’s death. This area of Tort Law is governed by statute. Wrongful death statutes vary from state to state, but in general they define who may sue for wrongful death and what, if any, limits may be applied to an award of damages.

Wills, Trusts & Estates

Probate, Trust and Estate Planning attorneys represent clients who run the gamut from the most modest of estates to those that are highly complex, either because of the unusual nature of the client’s assets and liabilities, or because of the nature of the client’s business, commercial and other interests. Services include extensive review, analysis and recommendations with respect to income, gift and estate tax matters, and well as pre- and post-death personal and administrative aspects of a client’s estate. This is another practice area with huge tax implications. Many of these attorneys are CPAs or have accounting background. Attorneys with this expertise are found in many different environments, including private law firms of all sizes, and in organizations such as banks, trust companies, and accounting firms. Clients can be individuals or corporations.

Water Law

A group of rights designed to protect the use and enjoyment of water that travels in streams, rivers, lakes, and ponds, gathers on the surface of the earth, or collects underground. Water rights generally emerge from a person’s ownership of the land bordering the banks of a watercourse or from a person’s actual use of a watercourse. Water rights are conferred and regulated by judge-made Common Law, state and federal legislative bodies, and other government departments. Water rights can also be created by contract, as when one person transfers his water rights to another.

UCC Law

A general and inclusive group of laws adopted, at least partially, by all the states to further uniformity and fair dealing in business and commercial transactions.

Unemployment Law

Insurance benefits paid by the state or federal government to individuals who are involuntarily out of work in order to provide them with necessities, such as food, clothing, and shelter. Unemployment compensation for U.S. workers was established by the federal Social Security Act of 1935 (42 U.S.C.A. §§ 301 et seq.). Unemployment insurance provides workers who have lost their job through no fault of their own with monetary payments for a given period of time or until they find a new job. This compensation is designed to give an unemployed worker time to find a new job equivalent to the one lost without major financial distress. Unemployment compensation is also justified as a way to provide the U.S. economy with consumer spending during an economic downturn.

Trusts, Probate and Estates

Probate, Trust and Estate Planning attorneys represent clients who run the gamut from the most modest of estates to those that are highly complex, either because of the unusual nature of the client’s assets and liabilities, or because of the nature of the client’s business, commercial and other interests. Services include extensive review, analysis and recommendations with respect to income, gift and estate tax matters, and well as pre- and post-death personal and administrative aspects of a client’s estate. This is another practice area with huge tax implications. Many of these attorneys are CPAs or have accounting background. Attorneys with this expertise are found in many different environments, including private law firms of all sizes, and in organizations such as banks, trust companies, and accounting firms. Clients can be
individuals or corporations.

Tribal Indian Law

There are some lawyers who work exclusively with legal issues affecting Native American
tribes, Indian land and reservations, and treaties. Attorneys are found in federal government
bodies such as the Bureau of Indian Affairs and The Indian Claims Commission, which hears
and determines claims against the United States on behalf of any Indian tribe. Private law firms
also have lawyers who specialize in matters relating to Indian lands and reservations, tribal
rights, and other legal issues affecting Native Americans. Additionally, specific Indian tribes,
which are recognized as sovereign entities with the power to regulate their internal and social
organization, have lawyers who may be members of the tribe themselves, and/or lawyers who
are hired as “general counsel,” to handle the legal affairs of their tribe. Public service agencies
also serve the Native American community with lawyers who specialize in the Indian Child
Welfare Act, and others who serve children, the elderly, or indigent members of the Native
American community.

Traffic Law

Traffic laws are the laws which govern traffic and regulate vehicles, while rules of the road are both the laws and the informal rules that may have developed over time to facilitate the orderly and timely flow of traffic.