Starting a Lawsuit (No. 165)
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- 1 What is Small Claims Court?
- 2 What is the dollar limit for Small Claims Court?
- 3 Where do you “file” your lawsuit?
- 4 Where will your claim be tried?
- 5 What types of claims can be tried in Small Claims Court?
- 6 What is the limitation period for debt claims?
- 7 What are “damages”?
- 8 What other cases may be brought in Small Claims Court?
- 9 Are there claims that cannot be tried in Small Claims Court?
- 10 How much does it cost to go to Small Claims Court?
- 11 Can you appeal a Small Claims Court judgment?
- 12 Summary
- 13 Where can you get help or more information?
What is Small Claims Court?
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?
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.
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.
Where do you “file” your lawsuit?
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
- nearest to where the event happened that resulted in your claim.
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.
Where will your claim be tried?
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 www.ag.gov.bc.ca/courts/overview/locations/.
What types of claims can be tried in Small Claims Court?
There are two main types:
- claims for debts
- claims for damages
Depending on the claim, different deadlines—known as “limitation periods”—apply. So don’t delay making your claim.
What is the limitation period for debt claims?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
What are “damages”?
“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.
What other cases may be brought in Small Claims Court?
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?
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?
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.
Can you appeal a Small Claims Court judgment?
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.
If you want to appeal a Small Claims Court judgment, you should probably consult with a lawyer right away.
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?
- 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.
- 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 www.ag.gov.bc.ca/courts/small_claims/ or www.smallclaimsbc.ca.
- For a convenient means of completing the Small Claims Court forms online, go to https://eservice.ag.gov.bc.ca/FilingAssistant/.
- Refer to the other Dial-A-Law scripts in this Small Claims Court series.
[updated August 2014]
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A person licensed to practice law in a particular jurisdiction. See "barrister and solicitor."
The assertion of a legal right to an order or to a thing; the remedy or relief sought by a party to a court proceeding.
A person appointed by the federal or provincial government to manage and decide court proceedings in an impartial manner, independent of influence by the parties, the government, or agents of the government. The decisions of a judge are binding upon the parties to the proceeding, subject to appeal.
Normally referred to as the "Supreme Court of British Columbia," this court hears most court proceedings in this province. The Supreme Court is a court of inherent jurisdiction and is subject to no limits on the sorts of claims it can hear or on the sorts of orders it can make. Decisions of the Provincial Court are appealed to the Supreme Court; decisions of the Supreme Court are appealed to the Court of Appeal. See "Court of Appeal," "jurisdiction," "Provincial Court," and "Supreme Court of Canada."
A calculation of the allowable legal expenses of a party to a court proceeding, as determined by the Supreme Court Family Rules. The party who is most successful in a court proceeding is usually awarded their "costs" of the proceeding. See "account, "bill of costs," "certificate of costs," and "lawyer's fees."
A judge's conclusions after hearing argument and considering the evidence presented at a trial or an application; a decision, the judge's reasons. A judge's written or oral decision will include the judge's conclusions about the relief or remedies claimed as well as their findings of fact and conclusions of law. A written decision is called the judge’s "reasons for judgment." See "common law," "conclusions of law," "findings of fact," and "final judgment."
A central office, located in each judicial district, at which the court files for each court proceeding in that district are maintained, and at which legal documents can be filed, searched, and reviewed; a courthouse.
A court established and staffed by the provincial government, which includes Small Claims Court, Youth Court, and Family Court. The Provincial Court is the lowest level of court in British Columbia and is restricted in the sorts of matters it can deal with. It is, however, the most accessible of the two trial courts and no fees are charged to begin or defend a family court proceeding. The Family Court of the Provincial Court cannot deal with the division of family property or matters under the Divorce Act. See "judge" and "jurisdiction."
An award of money payable by one party to a court proceeding to another, usually as compensation for loss or harm suffered as a result of the other party’s actions or omissions. In family law, damages are usually awarded to one party in compensation for breach of contract or spousal abuse. See "breach of contract" and "tort."
A time period after which someone may not make a claim because the right to do so has expired. The time for making a claim is set by legislation, and limitation periods will differ depending on the type of claim or the relationship between people making and defending the claim.
A sum of money or an obligation owed by one person to another. A "debtor" is a person responsible for paying a debt; a "creditor" is the person to whom the debt is owed.
The behaviour of a person that gives rise to a claim for relief. For example, a spouse's adultery gives rise to the other spouse's right to claim a divorce. The adulterous act is the cause of action for the divorce claim.
Chattels, goods, money; property other than real property. See "chattel" and "real property."
An agreement between two or more people, giving them obligations towards each other that can be enforced in court. A valid contract must be offered by one person and accepted by the other, and some form of payment or other thing of value must generally be exchanged between the parties to the contract.
A mandatory direction of the court, binding and enforceable upon the parties to a court proceeding. An "interim order" is a temporary order made following the hearing of an interim application. A "final order" is a permanent order, made following the trial of the court proceeding or the parties' settlement, following which the only recourse open to a dissatisfied party is to appeal. See "appeal," "consent order," "decision," and "declaration."
A legal right to have and use a thing that is enforceable in court. See "possession."
Real property; a parcel of real property and the buildings upon it. See also "chattel," "ownership," and "possession."
In law, all of the personal property and real property that a person owns or in which they have an interest, usually in connection with the prospect or event of the person's death.
The testing of the claims at issue in a court proceeding at a formal hearing before a judge with the jurisdiction to hear the proceeding. The parties present their evidence and arguments to the judge, who then makes a determination of the parties' claims against one another that is final and binding on the parties unless appealed. See "action," "appeal," "argument," "claim," "evidence," and "jurisdiction."
An application to a higher court for a review of the correctness of a decision of a lower court. A decision of a judge of the Provincial Court of British Columbia can be appealed to the Supreme Court of British Columbia. A decision of a judge of the Supreme Court can be appealed to the Court of Appeal for British Columbia.
Something which can be owned. See "chattels" and "real property."