Individuals and businesses use the small claims court to sue for money owed for a wide variety of reasons where the amount owing is $25,000 or less. The court also has the power to order return of property not exceeding that value.
The government just announced starting a new court action can now be done online for all types of claims province-wide, through a secure government website.
The Ontario government wants to make the court more accessible, by offering this new online filing service. However, just because it is easier to file documents doesn’t mean the small claims court procedures are easy to navigate.
Many people attempt to represent themselves in the small claims court. They have that ‘do it yourself’ attitude. They mistakenly believe the small claims court is like American courtroom reality television. Nothing can be further from the truth. Forms must be filed correctly. Procedures must be followed. A trial in Ontario looks nothing like television.
Court staff can give you general information procedures on how to complete forms, but they are not supposed to give legal advice.
This doesn’t stop people from asking court staff for legal advice when the case becomes complicated. A staff member may even give advice which they shouldn’t. Since court staff are not legally trained, the advice given, although well meaning, may be wrong. Unless the person gets professional legal advice the error may prove costly.
When your case becomes complicated, or you need someone who has knowledge of the rules of the court, the evidence and witnesses needed, and the particular law concerning the facts of your case you should turn to a licensed paralegal or a lawyer.
Ontario is the only jurisdiction in North America where a paralegal is a trained and educated professional, who is licensed, insured, and regulated. Paralegals are authorized to provide legal services directly to the public. A paralegal in Ontario can represent you with your legal matter by offering you legal advice, filling out forms, and representing you at trial in certain courts (including small claims court) and tribunals.
The small claims court process starts out by completing and issuing a Plaintiff’s Claim. The party being sued must file a defense with the court within 20 days of service. If this is done, the matter will be scheduled for a settlement conference before a judge or a mediator. This, in my opinion, is the most important hearing. Selfrepresented litigants may not recognize its significance.
A judge at a settlement conference has the power to make a number of orders, including dismissing a claim which has no merit, and to order the opposing side to produce documents which helps your case. If you don’t know to ask the judge to make a specific order, this may hurt your case.
The settlement conference is a great opportunity to allow the parties to come to an agreement on their own. It is a much better outcome than having a trial judge impose a decision. You could go to trial and get an order the other side owes you money. It is then up to you to collect through the process available through the court.
If the case is not settled, you will end up at trial. Here, you must present your case to the judge in an organized and understandable manner. Licensed paralegals and lawyers who specialize in small claims court representation know how to prepare a case for trial. They know how to question the opposing side’s witnesses. Cases are often won or lost based on this skill which can take years to learn properly.
Do you have a general question about small claims court procedures? Fax or e-mail your questions to info@getlegal-resultsca 1-877-931-1011. The best questions will be answered in the next edition of this article.