Small Claims Court is the Do-It-Yourself civil law division of the BC Provincial Court. It hears lawsuits that involve disputes between $5,001 and $35,000; however, as of April 1, 2019 the Civil Resolution Tribunal will start resolving many motor vehicle injury disputes of a value up to $50,000. Small Claims Court generally costs less and takes less time than going to Supreme Court.
If you and the other person cannot solve your legal problem on your own, you might have to go to court. It is sometimes a good idea to talk to a lawyer about your case. A lawyer can explain the court system to you and tell you what the result of your case might be.
The usual steps in taking a case to Small Claims Court are set out below.
In BC’s Small Claims Court, all cases start with someone making a claim – which is done by completing a standard court form called the Notice of Claim. The party starting the legal action is called the claimant. The party being sued is called the defendant.
The Notice of Claim is a standard Small Claims court form. It provides information for claimants to explain who you are, who you are suing, what happened and what you are asking for.
Once these steps are completed, the lawsuit has begun. Make sure you are using the correct form with all the required attachments. You will need to complete 5 copies of the form: Court Copy (1), Claimant Copy (1), Defendant Copy (2), Service Copy (1).
For more information, see the SmallClaimsBC.ca website: Filing a Notice of Claim.
The Notice of Claim form and the Reply form are “served” (delivered personally) on the defendant (the party being sued). You have 14 days to file a reply if you are in BC and 30 days to reply if you were outside of BC when you received the Notice of Claim.
In the Reply, the defendant gives an answer to the claim. In other words, the defendant tells his or her side of the story, and explains why he or she disagrees with all or part of the claim. The court registry mails the Reply to the claimant.
The defendant can also include a counter-claim in the Reply. This means that in addition to dispute the claim, the Defendant is suing the “Claimant” (the person who filed the Notice of Claim). The Defendant may think there is someone else who should pay all or a portion of the claim. If this is the case, the Defendant would file a third party claim.
The defendant might not reply to the notice of claim. Maybe he or she thinks that the Claimant will just give up. If the Defendant has not filed a Reply within 14 days after he or she was properly served with the notice of claim, the claimant can get an order from the court for the amount or action claimed. This is called a “default order”.
To learn more, see the SmallClaimsBC.ca website: Replying to a Claim.
A settlement conference is a meeting with a judge, the Claimant, and the Defendant. The purpose of the conference is to discuss the dispute and try to settle it without having a trial in court.
The judge asks some questions about the dispute and finds out if the parties can agree how to resolve the dispute. For example, the Defendant might owe $12,000 to the Claimant, but the Claimant may agree to accept $9,000 if the money is paid right away. In this case, the judge makes an order for the defendant to pay $9,000 to the claimant and it is the same as if the judge made that order after a trial.
If the parties cannot reach an agreement, a trial date will be set. If the trial will last more than one-half day, there will be another 30-minute meeting, called a “trial conference,” where everyone meets again to talk about the trial. The judge tries again to get the parties to settle their dispute. If they cannot do this, the judge helps the parties get ready for trial.
The judge could dismiss the claim. If the judge does not believe that the Claimant has a valid claim, the judge can stop the legal action before the trial. To learn more, see the SmallClaimsBC.ca website: Settlement Conference.
At the start of the trial, both parties must swear or promise to tell the truth. Then the Claimant and the Defendant both have a chance to tell their stories to the judge. They can respond to what the other party says. If there are witnesses, they give their evidence to the judge and they may be questioned by both parties.
The judge makes a decision and a court order is prepared. If the defendant, for example, is ordered to pay money to the claimant, the judge will also try to work out a reasonable schedule for the defendant to pay the claimant. For example, the judge may order the defendant to pay $250 a month until the debt is paid off.
If the claimant believes that the defendant can pay the debt faster, the parties will go to court again for a “payment hearing”. The judge asks the defendant questions about his or her ability to pay, and then makes a decision about how the debt will be paid.
To learn more, see the SmallClaimsBC.ca website: Trial.
There is a special procedure in the Vancouver and Richmond courthouses. If the amount of money claimed is between $5,001 and $10,000, the trial is limited to one hour. A judicial justice of the peace, not a judge, will hear the trial. A judicial justice of the peace is a lawyer who has the authority to act as a judge in some small claims cases.
To learn more, see the SmallClaimsBC.ca website: Simplified Trial.
If the Claimant wins the case, and the defendant is ordered to pay money to the Claimant, the Claimant will have to “enforce the judgment”, which means that the Claimant must get the Defendant to pay. This can sometimes be a challenging task if the Defendant does not have any money. The court does not collect the money for the party who won the case.
To learn more, see the SmallClaimsBC.ca website: Collecting on Judgment.
If one party does not like the judge’s decision, it is sometimes possible to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court of BC. This means that you are asking the court to review the decision of the Small Claims Court. This can be an expensive, lengthy, and complicated process and the result may be the same. It is a good idea to talk to a lawyer if you are thinking of appealing your case.
To learn more, see the SmallClaimsBC.ca website: Appealing Decisions.
IMPORTANT: This page provides legal information, not legal advice. If you need legal advice consult a lawyer.
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