Being Sued in Small Claims Court
|This information applies to British Columbia, Canada. Last reviewed for legal accuracy by Anna Kurt, Ganapathi Law Group in August 2017.|
If a notice of claim names you as a defendant in a Small Claims Court lawsuit, learn what options you have, how to act on them, and what happens next.
What you should know
If you receive a notice of claim
If you receive a notice of claim in a Small Claims Court lawsuit naming you as a defendant, it means someone is suing you.
A notice of claim may be handed to you personally by the party suing you or by another person, or it can be sent to you by registered mail. If you’re hard to find, the court may order that you be notified in some other way, such as by a notice posted on your front door or an ad in the local newspaper.
Once you receive the notice, don’t ignore it. If you do nothing, the other party can get a judgment against you, just as if there had been a trial.
You must respond to the notice of claim within 14 days. (If you live outside BC, you have 30 days to respond.) You can respond by filing a reply with the court. We explain how shortly. Or you can contact the other party to make arrangements you can both live with and the other party can withdraw the claim.
If you admit the claim and intend to pay
If you admit the claim, you can contact the other party directly and tell them. You can pay the amount claimed directly to them.
Alternatively, you and the other party might make some arrangements you can both live with. For example, they may agree to accept a reduced amount, or a payment plan. If so, the other party can file a consent order or a payment order with the court, and the lawsuit will end. (You must also pay their expenses, such as the fees to file the claim and deliver the notice to you.)
If you admit the claim, but can’t pay it
If you admit the claim, but can’t pay the amount involved, you should file a reply to the claim. A blank reply form should have been attached to the notice of claim. If you didn’t get a blank reply form with the notice, you can get it online at gov.bc.ca/smallclaims or from any Small Claims Court registry. On the reply, list the amounts you can pay and when you will pay.
Then, file your reply with the Small Claims Court registry shown on the notice of claim. You must pay a filing fee.
The registry will send a copy of your reply to the other party. They will decide whether to accept your proposed payment plan.
If the other party accepts your reply, you will receive a consent order to sign. It will end the lawsuit. If the other party doesn’t accept, you (or they) can ask for a payment hearing, where the court will set a payment schedule.
You must file the reply within 14 days of receiving the notice of claim. (If you live outside BC, you have 30 days to file the reply.)
If you deny the claim, or part of it
If you disagree with part of the claim, fill out the reply form. You can get it online at gov.bc.ca/smallclaims if the notice of claim didn’t have a blank reply form attached. Explain on the reply form what parts of the claim you disagree with and what parts you agree with. File the reply with the Small Claims Court registry. You must pay a filing fee.
If you deny the whole claim, fill out the reply form. List the reasons why you deny the claim. You do not need to describe everything in detail, as you’ll get a chance to present your case later. Evidence is not submitted at this stage, and the reply should be brief, factual and specific. File the reply with the Small Claims Court registry, together with the filing fee.
If you ignore the claim
If you receive a notice of claim and do nothing, the other party can get a judgment against you, just as if there had been a trial. This is called a default order.
After the time for you to reply has passed (14 days if you live in BC), the other party can apply to court for the default order. If their claim is for a debt, a default order may be made without a hearing. If the claim is not for a debt, the court will schedule a default hearing, where a judge decides the amount you will have to pay.
If you dispute the claim and lose
If the case goes to trial and you lose, you will have to pay the amount of the judgment, plus the other party’s fees and costs for getting the court documents to you.
The judge can also order you to pay an additional 10% of the amount claimed if you file a reply and go to trial when you had no reasonable chance of winning. Also, if the other party makes a settlement offer that you refuse, and the trial judgment is more than or equal to their offer, you may have to pay a penalty of up to 20% of the offer.
If you have a claim of your own
If you have your own claim against the other party relating to the matters in dispute, you can file a counterclaim. There is space on the reply form for you to describe your counterclaim. If your case goes to trial, the judge will decide on both the original claim and your counterclaim.
If you admit the claim, but believe the other party also owes you money for some other reason, you can file a counterclaim claiming a set-off. A set-off involves using the money the other party owes you to reduce the amount you owe them.
Each of these options require you to pay another filing fee.
If you think another party is responsible
You may think another person should pay all or part of the claim against you. If so, you can file a third party notice to bring that other person into the lawsuit. You can get the third party notice form online at gov.bc.ca/smallclaims or from any Small Claims Court registry.
What happens next
If you admit the claim
If you pay the amount claimed to the other party, you should get a receipt. The other party can end the lawsuit by filing a notice of withdrawal.
Alternatively, if you and the other party make arrangements you can both live with (such as you paying a reduced amount or a payment plan), the other party may file a consent order or a payment order. You will get a copy of the order, which ends the lawsuit.
(These forms are available online at gov.bc.ca/smallclaims.)
If you file a reply
If you file a reply, the court registry will send a copy of it to the other party. If you file a third party notice, the registry will send it to the third party you added.
For most claims, the court will schedule a settlement conference. The registry will tell you the date and time for the conference. You must attend. The judge will give their opinion of the case during the conference. If the claim cannot be settled, it will go to trial.
You can try to resolve the claim any time before trial. If the claim is over $10,000, you or the other party can file a notice to mediate, which will result in a mediation session. There, a neutral mediator will try to help you both come to an agreement on the issues. See our information on going to trial in Small Claims Court for more on this option, as well as what happens at trial.
You must attend the settlement conference and any mediation session that is set. Otherwise, a payment order may be made against you for the amount claimed. If you cannot attend, notify the court immediately and seek an adjournment or postponement of the scheduled date.
Who can help
With your case
You do not need a lawyer to go to Small Claims Court. But you'll probably better understand the process, as well as the strength of your case, if you get legal advice. If you have limited means, you might be able to get legal help from pro bono services, a student legal clinic, or an advocate. See our information on free and low-cost legal help.
The BC government website has how-to guides on Small Claims Court, including replying to a claim, serving documents, and getting ready for court.
The BC government’s Small Claims Court Filing Assistant walks you through the steps of completing court forms.
The BC Provincial Court website features information on Small Claims Court, as well as past court decisions.
The Small Claims BC Online Help Guide, from Justice Education Society, provides step-by-step information on each stage of a small claims case.
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