I Need to Take Someone to Court — What's the Process?

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There are a number of reasons that you may want to sue someone. They may owe you money, they may have damaged your property or your reputation, or they may have injured you on purpose, by accident or through improper treatment.

You can sue a person for a debt or damages (compensation for harm) for up to $25,000 in Small Claims Court. As of June 1, 2017, this limit will be increased to $35,000, and most claims for $5,000 or less will no longer be dealt with by the Small Claims court and will instead be dealt with through the Civil Resolution Tribunal - website here:www.civilresolutionbc.ca.

You can sue in BC Supreme Court for any amount.

Certain types of claims (defamation or enforcement of a claim of builders lien, for example) can only be pursued in BC Supreme Court.

In some cases it may make practical sense for you to voluntarily abandon the portion of your claim over $25,000 ($35,000 as of June 1, 2017) to allow you to pursue a claim in Small Claims Court rather than BC Supreme Court.

First steps[edit]

  1. Decide whether you want to sue in the Civil Resolution Tribunal (on or after June 1, 2017), Small Claims Court or BC Supreme Court. Ensure you are within the limitation period for doing so.
  2. Complete a Civil Resolution Tribunal Dispute Application Form and submit the appropriate fee, namely $150 for the paper form or $125 online form. The Tribunal will issue a Dispute Notice which you will have to provide to other parties with a blank Dispute Response.
  3. Complete a Small Claims Court Notice of Claim or Supreme Court Notice of Civil Claim. Small Claims forms are available online from the Ministry of Justice website. Supreme Court forms can be accessed through the "Laws, Cases & Rules" page on Clicklaw; click on "BC Supreme Court Civil Forms". Include the important facts related to your claim.
  4. Take the documents to the appropriate court registry, file them (there is a fee) and have them stamped.
  5. Serve a copy of the documents on the defendant. The usual way is to get a friend or a "process server" to give the documents to the defendant in person. The court registry can tell you about other ways you can serve documents.
Choosing the correct court: Small Claims Court's distinct features
  • simple procedures meant to be accessible to the public,
  • no lawyers required,
  • less time to mediation and trial,
  • judgments for damages limited to a maximum of $25,000,
  • no jurisdiction to deal with a claim of defamation (libel or slander), and
  • no awards for legal costs (this could be an incentive or a disincentive).

Choosing the correct court: Supreme Court's features
  • no limit on the possible award for damages,
  • jurisdiction for all types of law suits,
  • partial legal costs usually awarded to successful party (again, could be an incentive or a disincentive),
  • many procedural steps, a lawyer is not necessary but is desirable, and
  • timely and costly.

Since June 2013, the new Limitation Act has simplified time limits for filing civil lawsuits. Instead of many different basic limitation periods based on the type of legal action, there is now a single two-year basic limitation period for all civil claims. Exceptions to this are civil claims that enforce a monetary judgment, specifically listed "exempted claims" and actions that have limitation periods set by other statutes. The new Act also introduced a 15-year ultimate limitation period. The new Act’s limitation periods apply to claims arising from acts or omissions that occur and are discovered on or after June 1, 2013.

What happens next[edit]

Civil Resolution Tribunal[edit]

On or after June 1, 2017, the respondent will need to file a Dispute Response and has to provide you with a copy. You and the respondent will then begin an online Facilitation process with a Facilitator, which includes mediation. If this does not resolve the dispute your case will go before the Tribunal.

Small Claims Court[edit]

The defendant will need to file a Reply and they or the Registry will provide you with a copy. You and the defendant will then receive a Notice of Settlement Conference.

A settlement conference is an opportunity for you and the defendant to meet with a judge to see if you can agree to resolve the claim. The judge at a settlement conference is only there to help see if the parties can agree on a settlement. He or she cannot impose an agreement.

If the settlement conference doesn't resolve the case, you will be given a Notice of Trial. At trial, you will present your case, and the defendant will be given a chance to present his or her case. The trial judge will then decide who wins.

Small Claims Court now offers mediation in certain kinds of cases. If yours is one of these cases, a trained independent person will meet with you and the other parties in your case to see if you can agree on a way of resolving it. Ask someone at the court registry where you file your documents if mediation is available in your case.

Supreme Court[edit]

The defendant must file and provide you with a Response to Civil Claim in response to your Notice of Civil Claim.

During the next stage of a Supreme Court proceeding, known as discovery, the parties exchange lists of documents and may examine each other for discovery out of court. Finally, if the case is not resolved, it will proceed to trial. At trial, you will need to present your evidence through witnesses, documents and other exhibits and the defendant will need to do the same. At the end of the trial, the judge (or in some cases, a jury) will decide who wins.

If the defendant does not file a Reply in Small Claims Court or a Response to Civil Claim in Supreme Court, you can apply to the court for a default judgment giving you all or part of your claim.

Where to get help[edit]

See the Resource List for a list of helpful resources. Your best bets are:

Before meeting with a lawyer or advocate, complete the form Preparing for Your Interview included in this Guide. Make sure you bring copies of all documents relating to your case.

This information applies to British Columbia, Canada. Last reviewed for legal accuracy by John Bilawich, April 2017.

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 Canada Licence Legal Help for British Columbians © Cliff Thorstenson and Courthouse Libraries BC is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 Canada Licence.