Difference between revisions of "Starting a Lawsuit (No. 165)"

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{{REVIEWEDPLS | reviewer = [https://www.ganapathico.com/our-team/anna-kurt/ Anna Kurt], Ganapathi Law Group|date= October 2017}} {{Dial-A-Law TOC|expanded = courts}}
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A lawsuit is a way to get money or other relief if something’s gone wrong. Learn what to consider and what is involved in '''starting a lawsuit''' in British Columbia.
  
==What is Small Claims Court?==
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==Understand the legal framework==
If you’re suing someone for $25,000 or less, Small Claims Court is for you. Small Claims Court is meant for ordinary people to handle their cases with or without a lawyer. The court forms include directions about how to make a claim and have it heard by a judge, and the rules and procedures are less formal and simpler than those found in Supreme Court.
 
  
==What is the dollar limit for Small Claims Court?==
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===Other ways to resolve a dispute can be cheaper and more effective===  
Small Claims Court only takes cases where the value of the claim, not including interest and court costs, is $25,000 or less. If your claim is for more than $25,000, you can still sue in Small Claims Court if you give up the extra amount. For example, if someone owes you $27,000, you can decide just to sue for $25,000 in Small Claims Court, but you must give up the other $2,000 of your claim. You may get interest and court costs on top of the $25,000 claim limit.
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A '''lawsuit''' is a way to get money or other relief if something’s gone wrong. It might be getting poor service under a contract, being injured in a car accident, getting fired unfairly, or not getting repaid a debt.
  
It’s important to remember that once your case has been tried in Small Claims Court, you cannot later sue for the part of the claim you gave up. But if you decide after all that you want to sue for the full amount, you can apply to have your claim transferred to Supreme Court. Then you can sue for the entire amount. It’s also possible to claim legal costs if your claim is transferred to Supreme Court and you get a judgment in excess of $25,000.
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The party who feels they were wronged starts a lawsuit by filing documents in court. The other party files documents in response. If the parties can’t settle the case, it goes to trial, where each side presents evidence and the court decides the outcome of the case.
  
==Where do you “file” your lawsuit?==
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Before starting a lawsuit, it’s almost always best to try solving the problem another way. Going to court can end up costing more than a dispute is worth. It’s rarely quick. Court proceedings are open to the public, and you may prefer to keep the details of your dispute private.
You have a choice. You can “file” or start your lawsuit in the Small Claims Court registry that is either:
 
  
*nearest to where the person you are suing lives or has a business, or
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There are other ways to resolve disputes that can be cheaper, faster, and more effective. For example:
*nearest to where the event happened that resulted in your claim.
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*'''Negotiation''' involves the people in a conflict discussing issues to try to reach an agreement. You work out a solution together that fits both of your interests.
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*With '''mediation''', the people in a conflict meet with a neutral person (a mediator), who helps them find a solution they agree on. The mediator helps you come to an agreement, but they don’t decide for you.
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*With '''arbitration''', the people in a conflict hire a neutral person (an arbitrator) to make decisions about their dispute they will be bound by. Arbitration is less formal and more flexible than court, and private.  
  
For example, say you’re suing another driver for injuries received in a car accident. He lives in Surrey, but the accident took place in Vancouver. You could sue in either Surrey or Vancouver.
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Learn about options for “alternative dispute resolution” in our information on [[Resolving Disputes Without Going to Court (No. 429)|resolving disputes without going to court (no. 429)]].
  
==Where will your claim be tried?==
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===The court you bring a lawsuit in depends on the dollar amount involved===
You’ll find a Small Claims Court in all major cities and most smaller towns in British Columbia. Look in the blue pages of your telephone directory under the heading “Government of BC, Court Services,” or check with your nearest Provincial Court. Or call Inquiry BC at 604.660.2421 in Vancouver, 250.387.6121 in Victoria or 1.800.663.7867 elsewhere in BC. Court locations are also posted on the Internet at [http://www.ag.gov.bc.ca/courts/overview/locations/ www.ag.gov.bc.ca/courts/overview/locations/].
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In British Columbia, where you bring a lawsuit depends on the dollar value of the claim and its subject.
  
==What types of claims can be tried in Small Claims Court?==
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Claims for '''up to $5,000''' must usually be taken to the online '''Civil Resolution Tribunal'''. [https://civilresolutionbc.ca/ This tribunal] is an online system people can use without the help of a lawyer. There are some exceptions, such as where the tribunal considers the case to be too complex or if the claim is a certain type of dispute (such as a claim that affects land). We explain this more shortly. 
There are two main types:
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For most disputes worth between $5,000 and $35,000, the case can be brought in '''Small Claims Court'''. [http://www.provincialcourt.bc.ca/types-of-cases/small-claims-matters This court] is also designed for people to act for themselves. For more, see our information on [[Suing Someone in Small Claims Court (No. 166)|Small Claims Court]] (no. [[Suing Someone in Small Claims Court (No. 166)|166]] to [[Going to Trial in Small Claims Court (No. 168))|168]]).
  
*claims for debts
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Claims for more than $35,000 generally go to the '''BC Supreme Court'''.
*claims for damages
 
  
Depending on the claim, different deadlines—known as “limitation periods”—apply. So don’t delay making your claim.
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===The court you sue in also depends on the subject matter of the lawsuit===
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Where you bring a lawsuit also depends on its subject matter. Certain types of claims must be brought in a specific court. For example, a lawsuit against the federal government must be brought in [http://www.fct-cf.gc.ca Federal Court]. See our information on [[Our Court System in a Nutshell (No. 432)|our court system in a nutshell (no. 432)]] for a high-level overview.
  
==What is the limitation period for debt claims?==
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Certain types of civil claims must be brought in '''BC Supreme Court''', regardless of the dollar value involved. For example:
This type of claim is a claim to get back a debt or specific amount of money that someone owes you. Limitation periods set limits on how long you can wit before starting a claim.  
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*claims to do with an interest in land or that affect land (such as a [[Builders Liens (No. 268)|builders lien claim]])
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*claims involving [[Defamation: Libel and Slander (No. 240)|defamation]]
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*claims involving a will or estate 
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*an application for an order for divorce
  
On June 1, 2013, a new ''Limitation Act'' came into effect in British Columbia. Under this Act, most claims are now subject to a two-year basic limitation period. In other words, if the cause of action arose on or after June 1, 2013, the new ''Limitation Act'' will apply, and you will have two years from the day a claim is “discovered” to start a claim.
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As well, there are certain types of claims where a law says the claim must go to a '''tribunal'''. This is a body similar to a court that hears disputes and makes decisions in a specific area. For example, a claim for worker’s compensation benefits after a workplace injury must be brought to a tribunal that specializes in those types of claims.  
  
If a cause of action arose before June 1, 2013, the old ''Limitation Act'' will apply. Under the old Act, the claim must be started within six years from the time the debt arose, or within six years from the time the debtor last acknowledged the debt.
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While for the most part the online '''Civil Resolution Tribunal''' deals only with claims up to $5,000, there are two exceptions:
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#The tribunal deals with most disputes involving '''strata properties''' (condos), of any dollar amount.
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#For '''motor vehicle accidents''' taking place in BC after April 1, 2019, injury claims up to $50,000 must be brought to the tribunal.  
  
The best thing is to start your lawsuit as soon as it’s clear that the person or company can’t or won’t pay you what they owe.
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===There’s a time limit to sue===
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The [http://canlii.ca/t/8qx3 law in BC] creates a time window to bring a legal action. Once this window, called a “'''limitation period'''”, has passed, it’s too late to start a lawsuit.
  
If your limitation period is not clear to you, you should consult a lawyer. If your limitation period expires before you file a claim, your opportunity to file the claim may be lost.
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Most claims have a limitation period of '''two years'''. But some types of claims have different limitation periods. For example, a lawsuit to enforce a court judgment has a limitation period of 10 years.
  
==What are “damages”?==
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The limitation period starts to run once a person “'''discovers'''” their legal claim. A claim is said to be discovered on the first day you knew, or reasonably ought to have known, all the following:
“Damages” means an amount of money to compensate you for a loss you’ve suffered. It could be for an injury you’ve suffered, or for loss or damage to your personal property, or for some other financial loss such as when someone breaks a contract with you. It differs from debt as damages are assessed by the Court whereas debt is usually already a defined amount owing for services.
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*an injury, loss or damage occurred,
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*it was caused at least partly by an act or '''omission''' (something neglected or left undone),  
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*the act or omission was that of the person you’re suing, and
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*a court proceeding would be an appropriate way to seek a remedy.
  
==What other cases may be brought in Small Claims Court?==
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For example, let’s say you take your car for engine repairs. It’s in the shop for a month. When you get it back, you see the car has a new problem — the back bumper has a major dent. The limitation period starts on the day you discovered the car was damaged and realized (or reasonably ought to have realized) it was the repair shop that did the damage.
Small Claims Court also hears other less common cases. For example, you can sue to get back personal property wrongfully taken from you. Or you might want to sue to cancel a contract. Or perhaps someone hasn’t done something they agreed to do, and you want the court to order them to do it.
 
  
==Are there claims that cannot be tried in Small Claims Court?==
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If you discovered a legal claim before June 1, 2013, an [http://canlii.ca/t/845q older limitations law] applies. It had different limitation periods for different types of claims. For example, a claim for breach of contract or repayment of a debt had a six-year limitation period.
Yes. You can’t sue in Small Claims Court for libel, slander or malicious prosecution. You also can’t sue over ownership of land, and you can’t sue the federal or provincial government in Small Claims Court. Further, most residential tenancy claims, some claims concerning the estate of someone who has died, and most builders lien actions can’t go to Small Claims Court.
 
  
==How much does it cost to go to Small Claims Court?==
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{| class="wikitable"
Because you can go to court yourself and handle your own Small Claims Court trial, you don’t have to pay any legal fees to a lawyer. But you will have to pay various small charges for filing your claim, delivering the documents to the defendant, and so on. For example, the Small Claims Court fee for starting a claim is $100 for claims up to $3,000 and $156 for claims over $3,000. On the whole, you’ll find the procedures simple and relatively inexpensive.
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|align="left"|'''Tip'''
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The [https://www.canlii.org/en/bc/laws/stat/rsbc-2015-c-1/latest/rsbc-2015-c-1.html#sec735_smooth limitation period for suing a municipal government] is shorter than for most claims: just six months. If you don’t know what limitation period applies in your case, seek legal advice. If the limitation period expires before you sue, you are barred from bringing a claim.  
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|}
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===Bringing the lawsuit===
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A lawsuit begins with a document you prepare, file with the court (or tribunal), and deliver to the party you’re suing.  
  
==Can you appeal a Small Claims Court judgment?==
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This document is called different things depending on the court. In Small Claims Court, it’s called a '''notice of claim'''. Before the Civil Resolution Tribunal, it’s called a '''dispute application form'''.  
A Small Claims Court judgment may be appealed to the Supreme Court, but the appeal must be started within 40 days after the Small Claims Court order was made. If you are late filing the notice of appeal, you may apply to the Supreme Court to extend the time, but there’s no guarantee that you will receive an extension as certain criteria must be shown.
 
  
The appeal is not a new trial and the Supreme Court judge will only determine if the Small Claims Court judge made an error in law. An order of the Supreme Court cannot be appealed.
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The details of how you complete the form, file it, and deliver it also vary depending on the court. For the process in '''Small Claims Court''', see our information on [[Suing Someone in Small Claims Court (No. 166)|suing someone in Small Claims Court (no. 166)]].
  
If you want to appeal a Small Claims Court judgment, you should probably consult with a lawyer right away.
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For the process before the '''Civil Resolution Tribunal''', see the [https://civilresolutionbc.ca/how-the-crt-works/tribunal-process/ tribunal’s website].
  
==Summary==
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For the process in '''Supreme Court''', see the court’s [https://www.supremecourtbc.ca Online Help Guide].
You can sue in Small Claims Court if your claim is for $25,000 or less, though some types of claims aren’t allowed. Typical claims that go to Small Claims Court are for recovery of money owed or for damages for personal injury, property loss or breaking a contract. Depending on the claim, there are different deadlines for making a claim, so if you want to sue, you should start your lawsuit as soon as possible.
 
  
==Where can you get help or more information?==
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As you consider your next steps, it’s worth asking yourself a few questions.
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#'''Is it worth it to sue'''? Is bringing a lawsuit going to cost you almost as much as you’re claiming? Even if you are representing yourself or not paying for legal representation, you’ll have to pay fees and expenses to make a claim — the amounts depend on what court you’re suing in and what evidence you put forward.
 +
#'''Is the emotional toll worth it'''? There’s also the emotional cost of being in a lawsuit. The conflict you’re in might extend for a year or two or even longer. Consider the complicated and personal questions you might have to ask or answer.
 +
#'''Will you get paid, even if you win'''? If you bring a lawsuit and win, it's up to you to collect the money. If the person or company you’re claiming against can’t pay, you won’t get your money. If you’re dealing with a company, check that they’re still in business. See our information on [[Getting Your Judgment Paid (No. 169)|getting your judgment paid (no. 169)]] for options if the person you sue doesn’t pay. 
  
*Before you start your claim, you may want to get some advice from a lawyer or talk to the Small Claims Court staff for help with procedures.
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==Get help==
*Read the booklets on Small Claims Court available at the Small Claims Court registry and at your local public library. These booklets and other information are also found on the Attorney General’s website at [http://www.ag.gov.bc.ca/courts/small_claims/ www.ag.gov.bc.ca/courts/small_claims/] or [http://www.smallclaimsbc.ca www.smallclaimsbc.ca].
 
*For a convenient means of completing the Small Claims Court forms online, go to [https://eservice.ag.gov.bc.ca/FilingAssistant/ https://eservice.ag.gov.bc.ca/FilingAssistant/].
 
*Refer to the other Dial-A-Law scripts in this Small Claims Court series.
 
  
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===With your case===
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You do not need a lawyer to go to Small Claims Court or bring a claim to the Civil Resolution Tribunal. 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 (No. 430)|free and low-cost legal help (no. 430)]].
  
[updated August 2014]
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===More information===
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The '''Civil Resolution Tribunal'''’s website explains how to bring a claim to the tribunal and what to expect from each stage of the process.
 +
:Web: [https://civilresolutionbc.ca/how-the-crt-works/tribunal-process/ civilresolutionbc.ca]  
  
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The '''BC government''' website has how-to guides on Small Claims Court, including making a claim, replying to a claim, serving documents, getting ready for court, and getting results.
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:Web: [https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/justice/courthouse-services/small-claims/how-to-guides gov.bc.ca/smallclaims]
  
----
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The '''Supreme Court BC Online Help Guide''', from Justice Education Society, provides step-by-step information on each stage of a lawsuit before that court.
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:Web: [https://www.supremecourtbc.ca/ supremecourtbc.ca]
 
 
  
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{{Dial-A-Law_Navbox|type=courts}}
 
{{Dial-A-Law Copyright}}
 
{{Dial-A-Law Copyright}}

Latest revision as of 10:42, 31 March 2019

This information applies to British Columbia, Canada. Last reviewed for legal accuracy by Anna Kurt, Ganapathi Law Group in October 2017.

A lawsuit is a way to get money or other relief if something’s gone wrong. Learn what to consider and what is involved in starting a lawsuit in British Columbia.

Understand the legal framework

Other ways to resolve a dispute can be cheaper and more effective

A lawsuit is a way to get money or other relief if something’s gone wrong. It might be getting poor service under a contract, being injured in a car accident, getting fired unfairly, or not getting repaid a debt.

The party who feels they were wronged starts a lawsuit by filing documents in court. The other party files documents in response. If the parties can’t settle the case, it goes to trial, where each side presents evidence and the court decides the outcome of the case.

Before starting a lawsuit, it’s almost always best to try solving the problem another way. Going to court can end up costing more than a dispute is worth. It’s rarely quick. Court proceedings are open to the public, and you may prefer to keep the details of your dispute private.

There are other ways to resolve disputes that can be cheaper, faster, and more effective. For example:

  • Negotiation involves the people in a conflict discussing issues to try to reach an agreement. You work out a solution together that fits both of your interests.
  • With mediation, the people in a conflict meet with a neutral person (a mediator), who helps them find a solution they agree on. The mediator helps you come to an agreement, but they don’t decide for you.
  • With arbitration, the people in a conflict hire a neutral person (an arbitrator) to make decisions about their dispute they will be bound by. Arbitration is less formal and more flexible than court, and private.

Learn about options for “alternative dispute resolution” in our information on resolving disputes without going to court (no. 429).

The court you bring a lawsuit in depends on the dollar amount involved

In British Columbia, where you bring a lawsuit depends on the dollar value of the claim and its subject.

Claims for up to $5,000 must usually be taken to the online Civil Resolution Tribunal. This tribunal is an online system people can use without the help of a lawyer. There are some exceptions, such as where the tribunal considers the case to be too complex or if the claim is a certain type of dispute (such as a claim that affects land). We explain this more shortly.

For most disputes worth between $5,000 and $35,000, the case can be brought in Small Claims Court. This court is also designed for people to act for themselves. For more, see our information on Small Claims Court (no. 166 to 168).

Claims for more than $35,000 generally go to the BC Supreme Court.

The court you sue in also depends on the subject matter of the lawsuit

Where you bring a lawsuit also depends on its subject matter. Certain types of claims must be brought in a specific court. For example, a lawsuit against the federal government must be brought in Federal Court. See our information on our court system in a nutshell (no. 432) for a high-level overview.

Certain types of civil claims must be brought in BC Supreme Court, regardless of the dollar value involved. For example:

  • claims to do with an interest in land or that affect land (such as a builders lien claim)
  • claims involving defamation
  • claims involving a will or estate
  • an application for an order for divorce

As well, there are certain types of claims where a law says the claim must go to a tribunal. This is a body similar to a court that hears disputes and makes decisions in a specific area. For example, a claim for worker’s compensation benefits after a workplace injury must be brought to a tribunal that specializes in those types of claims.

While for the most part the online Civil Resolution Tribunal deals only with claims up to $5,000, there are two exceptions:

  1. The tribunal deals with most disputes involving strata properties (condos), of any dollar amount.
  2. For motor vehicle accidents taking place in BC after April 1, 2019, injury claims up to $50,000 must be brought to the tribunal.

There’s a time limit to sue

The law in BC creates a time window to bring a legal action. Once this window, called a “limitation period”, has passed, it’s too late to start a lawsuit.

Most claims have a limitation period of two years. But some types of claims have different limitation periods. For example, a lawsuit to enforce a court judgment has a limitation period of 10 years.

The limitation period starts to run once a person “discovers” their legal claim. A claim is said to be discovered on the first day you knew, or reasonably ought to have known, all the following:

  • an injury, loss or damage occurred,
  • it was caused at least partly by an act or omission (something neglected or left undone),
  • the act or omission was that of the person you’re suing, and
  • a court proceeding would be an appropriate way to seek a remedy.

For example, let’s say you take your car for engine repairs. It’s in the shop for a month. When you get it back, you see the car has a new problem — the back bumper has a major dent. The limitation period starts on the day you discovered the car was damaged and realized (or reasonably ought to have realized) it was the repair shop that did the damage.

If you discovered a legal claim before June 1, 2013, an older limitations law applies. It had different limitation periods for different types of claims. For example, a claim for breach of contract or repayment of a debt had a six-year limitation period.

Tip

The limitation period for suing a municipal government is shorter than for most claims: just six months. If you don’t know what limitation period applies in your case, seek legal advice. If the limitation period expires before you sue, you are barred from bringing a claim.

Bringing the lawsuit

A lawsuit begins with a document you prepare, file with the court (or tribunal), and deliver to the party you’re suing.

This document is called different things depending on the court. In Small Claims Court, it’s called a notice of claim. Before the Civil Resolution Tribunal, it’s called a dispute application form.

The details of how you complete the form, file it, and deliver it also vary depending on the court. For the process in Small Claims Court, see our information on suing someone in Small Claims Court (no. 166).

For the process before the Civil Resolution Tribunal, see the tribunal’s website.

For the process in Supreme Court, see the court’s Online Help Guide.

As you consider your next steps, it’s worth asking yourself a few questions.

  1. Is it worth it to sue? Is bringing a lawsuit going to cost you almost as much as you’re claiming? Even if you are representing yourself or not paying for legal representation, you’ll have to pay fees and expenses to make a claim — the amounts depend on what court you’re suing in and what evidence you put forward.
  2. Is the emotional toll worth it? There’s also the emotional cost of being in a lawsuit. The conflict you’re in might extend for a year or two or even longer. Consider the complicated and personal questions you might have to ask or answer.
  3. Will you get paid, even if you win? If you bring a lawsuit and win, it's up to you to collect the money. If the person or company you’re claiming against can’t pay, you won’t get your money. If you’re dealing with a company, check that they’re still in business. See our information on getting your judgment paid (no. 169) for options if the person you sue doesn’t pay.

Get help

With your case

You do not need a lawyer to go to Small Claims Court or bring a claim to the Civil Resolution Tribunal. 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 (no. 430).

More information

The Civil Resolution Tribunal’s website explains how to bring a claim to the tribunal and what to expect from each stage of the process.

Web: civilresolutionbc.ca

The BC government website has how-to guides on Small Claims Court, including making a claim, replying to a claim, serving documents, getting ready for court, and getting results.

Web: gov.bc.ca/smallclaims

The Supreme Court BC Online Help Guide, from Justice Education Society, provides step-by-step information on each stage of a lawsuit before that court.

Web: supremecourtbc.ca
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International Licence Dial-A-Law © People's Law School is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution - NonCommercial - ShareAlike 4.0 International Licence.


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