Small claims court is a sort of “do-it-yourself” system for small-scale lawsuits. It’s more informal and cost-effective than other courts. It employs simpler rules, and you can easily represent yourself without a lawyer.
Claim forms are typically a simple fill-in-the-blank style and costs to file claims can be as low as $25, depending on where you live and what you’re suing for.
Why would I go to small claims court?
Examples of small claims might include:
- bounced cheques;
- unpaid debts;
- goods or services paid for but not delivered;
- personal injury suits;
- damage to personal property;
- breach of contract;
- product defects (if the seller or manufacturer won’t exchange or repair it).
There are some types of disputes you can’t bring to small claims court, regardless of how much money you’re seeking. Examples would include:
- residential tenancy issues (landlord-tenant disputes);
- land ownership or interest;
- wills, trusts and administration disputes;
- defamation (libel or slander);
- malicious prosecution;
- false imprisonment;
- appeals of other court cases.
Also, there are alternatives to court. If you’ve bought a faulty car, you can pursue free arbitration through the Canadian Motor Vehicle Arbitration Plan.
Should I bring a claim?
Here are some important factors to consider before going to small claims court.
If you are seeking more than the provincial limit, you have to forfeit that amount. You can’t file two separate claims or sue for the rest at another time. For example, if you’re seeking $40,000 in B.C., which has a $35,000 limit, you’re surrendering your claim to that additional $5,000. If you’re not prepared to forfeit any amounts, you need to bring your case to another court.
New tribunals are starting to appear that deal with claims of $5,000 or less. As of June 1, 2017, British Columbia has a Civil Resolution Tribunal (CRT) that resolves disputes involving amounts of $5,000 or less. The CRT is an online tribunal that offers dispute resolution services 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Winning doesn’t guarantee you’ll get your money. Judgments can be difficult to enforce and you may have to spend more in order to do so. Also, consider whether the defendant even has assets that you can collect.
Small Claims Court of Ontario
Small Claims B.C.
B.C. Civil Resolution Tribunal