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How to start a lawsuit in small claims or provincial court

The monetary amount for which you are suing the other party will determine in which court you will start the lawsuit.

Small claims court

Every province sets out the monetary value under which a claim has to be made in order for it to be heard in small claims court.

For lawsuits that are brought in front of the court and have smaller monetary values, small claims court will usually deal with the matter in order to relieve the larger courts from having to deal with smaller matters that would otherwise back-log the provincial court system.

However, it is important to know that:

  1. Provinces can increase or decrease (though it’s usually increase) the monetary value of the cases they hear – in recent years quite a few provinces have in fact increased the monetary amount for small claims cases;
  2. Most provinces and territories differ in the monetary limit that they set in order for the matter to fall within small claims jurisdiction.

To illustrate how different the small claims court monetary limits are, we can look at Alberta, Ontario, British Columbia, and Manitoba, all whom have different monetary limits.

As of 2014, Alberta increased its small claims monetary limit to $50,000 and under. Manitoba, in contrast, only has a monetary limit of $10,000, whereas Ontario and British Columbia fall in the middle, and set the monetary limit to $25,000.

In order to determine whether the claim you intend to file falls under the jurisdiction of the small claims court, you have to check what the current limit is for your province or territory.

Some people prefer to stay within the small claims jurisdiction because cases are sometimes resolved faster than it may have been possible in provincial court. However, their claim total may be more than the limit for small claims court. In those cases, people have a choice to reduce the amount of their claim in order to stay within small claims limits.

If your case falls within the small-claims limit, then in order to start a small-claims case, then there are two things you have to do:

  1. Notify the court of the claim you are starting; and
  2. Let the person, whom you are suing, know that you are filing a claim against him or her.

Usually that is done by filing a claim’s form that is usually known as the Plaintiff’s claim or notice of claim.

Provincial (or higher) court

If you are above the limit for small claims court, then you have to start the lawsuit at the provincial court. Sometimes a province’s small claims court is referred to as its provincial court, which means you would have to go to a court higher than that.

A claim is starting at the provincial court by filing a pleading, which is also called a statement of claim/notice of civil claim. However, depending on what kind of lawsuit you file, may mandate a bit of a different procedure although most civil lawsuit, in which someone is sued, start with the notice of claim.

When you have all the information together you need that is the time at which at notice of claim should be filed – keeping time limits in consideration. Courts have procedural rules that have to be respected when filing the notice of claim. Those rules are quite strict and if not observed properly your documents may be sent back until they are in proper form.

It has to be remembered that every province and territory has their own specific court rules and those are the rules that must be consulted when starting and filing one’s claim. Those rules may be similar from province to province, but may have different requirements as to how to start a lawsuit.

Due to the complexity of court rules, procedures and proceedings, when people file lawsuits, they should consult a lawyer.

Read more:

Civil and Criminal Cases Department of Justice

Before You Sue Alberta