What to expect when you go to small claims court

February 6, 2014

It's a fact of life: people disagree. However, when a stalemate occurs small claims court may be your only option. Here's some advice to help you prepare for your day in court.

What to expect when you go to small claims court

Small claims court

Are you having problems with a supplier, contractor, tenant, small business owner—or even a neighbour? Small claims court is the place to resolve this kind of dispute before it escalates into something worse.

In small claims court the rules are simpler than in other courts:

  • The allowable amount of the claim varies by province; in some jurisdictions a person can sue someone when the value of the disputed amount is equal to or less than $7,000; in others, it goes up to $25,000.
  • Businesses, companies and associations may also file a claim through this court.
  • Small claims court can help people resolve conflicts about broken contracts, some landlord/tenant issues, neighbouring property disputes, and the like.

In contrast, small claims court is not intended for the following matters:

  • Requests for alimony and family legal issues.
  • Class action suits.
  • Libel suits.
  • Applications that are designed to recover property.

How does it work?

The complainant must represent him or herself at the hearing. Lawyers are not entitled to be in attendance. However, it is best to consult one before the hearing in order to better prepare the documents and arguments to be presented before the court.

  • The Clerk of the Court may help you gather the necessary documents but cannot, under any circumstances, submit arguments on your behalf.

The formal demand notice

It is important to send a formal notice to the individual or legal entity that you wish to sue.

  • This needs to include such mandatory information as the date and the recipient’s contact information, as well as the phrase “without prejudice” (to protect you from what is written in the letter).
  • You should also explain the reason for the letter and set a deadline for solving the problem.
  • It is essential to keep a copy of this demand notice.

Before the hearing

Before the hearing, both parties receive a notice containing the date and time of their appearance. Both parties must then submit all documents to the Clerk of the Court no later than 15 days before the hearing.

  • These documents must provide evidence of the merits of the application or of the dispute.
  • They must contain a summary of the facts as well as reasons and evidence that justify the desired small claims court judgement.

Preparing the arguments

It is essential to establish your case in chronological order and present it in an organized way.

  • Each point should equal one paragraph and be supported by a piece of evidence such as an object, a written statement, a contract or an expert document.

The day of the hearing

Any witnesses for either party must be present. You may bring in an ordinary witness or an expert witness, such as an engineer or architect, for example.

  • After hearing all the parties, the judge will render a verdict. He or she could rule partially or entirely in favour of the applicant or reject the claim.
  • The court might also render its decision at a later date, in which case the judge intends to take the case under advisement.

A copy of the judgement is given to all the parties. Judgements in small claims court are final and without recourse to appeal.

The material on this website is provided for entertainment, informational and educational purposes only and should never act as a substitute to the advice of an applicable professional. Use of this website is subject to our terms of use and privacy policy.
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