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 What types of claims can be tried in Small Claims Court?
- 4 Other cases that can go to Small Claims Court
- 5 What claims can Small Claims Court not hear?
- 6 What is the limitation period?
- 7 Where do you sue, or file your notice of claim?
- 8 Where will your case be tried?
- 9 Telling the other side that you are suing—serving your notice of claim
- 10 How much does it cost to go to Small Claims Court?
- 11 Can you appeal a Small Claims Court judgment?
- 12 Mediation—another option
- 13 Summary
- 14 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. The processes are less formal and simpler than in Supreme Court.
What is the dollar limit for Small Claims Court?
Small Claims Court takes cases only if 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 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. What interest rate applies can be confusing, depending on the type of claim. If it is not clear to you how to calculate interest, you should see a lawyer or talk to the staff at the nearest small claims court registry.
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 you sue in Small Claims Court, but before your case has been tried—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 over $25,000.
What types of claims can be tried in Small Claims Court?
There are two main types of claims:
- for debts—this is usually a specific amount someone owes you for goods or services
- for damages—this is money paid to 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. Unlike with debt, the amount of damages is not usually a specific amount; instead, it is assessed by the court.
Other cases that can go to 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.
What claims can Small Claims Court not hear?
You can’t sue in Small Claims Court for defamation (libel, slander—see script 240) 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.
What is the limitation period?
Limitation periods set deadlines for starting to sue someone. Different limitation periods apply to different types of claims. On June 1, 2013, a new Limitation Act became law in British Columbia. Most claims now have a 2-year basic limitation period. In other words, if the cause of action (the event you’re suing about) happened on or after June 1, 2013, the new Limitation Act will apply, and you will have 2 years from the day you discover that you can sue to start a claim.
If a cause of action happened before June 1, 2013, the old Limitation Act applies. Under it, the claim must be started within 6 years from the time the debt arose, or within 6 years from when the debtor last acknowledged the debt.
If you don’t know what limitation period applies in your case, see a lawyer. If your limitation period expires before you sue, that may be the end of it. It’s best 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. Don’t delay.
Where do you sue, or file your notice of claim?
You have a choice. You can file a notice of claim (to 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
- where the event you’re suing about happened.
For example, say you want to sue a driver for injuries from a car accident. He lives in Surrey, but the accident took place in Vancouver. You can sue in either Surrey or Vancouver.
Where will your case be tried?
There is a Small Claims Court in all major cities and most smaller towns in British Columbia. The BC Ministry of Justice lists court locations. So does the Small Claims Court website. Or you can ask Inquiry BC for court locations; call it 604.660.2421 in Vancouver, 250.387.6121 in Victoria or 1.800.663.7867 elsewhere in BC.
Telling the other side that you are suing—serving your notice of claim
You have to inform the person you are suing (the defendant) that you are suing them. That’s called serving them with your notice of claim. And you must do that within one year of filing your claim. If the defendant lives in BC, you can serve the notice of claim (after you have filed it in court) by giving the defendant a copy of it, and a blank Reply form (available from the registry). The ways to serve a defendant depend on who the defendant is. For example, if the defendant is a person over 18 years old, you can serve your notice of claim by giving it to them in person (called personal service) or sending it to their home by registered mail.
If the defendant lives outside of BC, but the event that led to the lawsuit happened in BC, you can serve your notice of claim in the ordinary way as already explained. In any other case, you need permission of the court registrar before you can serve a notice of claim outside BC.
The BC Ministry of Justice has more on serving documents.
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 must pay various small charges to file your claim, deliver documents to the defendant, and so on. For example, the Small Claims Court fee to start a claim is $100 for claims up to $3,000 and $156 for claims over $3,000. Overall, the procedures are simple and relatively inexpensive.
Can you appeal a Small Claims Court judgment?
You can appeal a Small Claims Court judgment 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 can apply to the Supreme Court to extend the time, but there’s no guarantee that you will get it.
The appeal is not a new trial and the Supreme Court judge will decide only 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 a lawyer right away.
You may be able to use mediation (with a mediator) at certain courthouses, instead of suing in a court, before a judge. The Court Mediation Program website explains the program for claims up to $10,000. A different process is available for claims between $10,000 and $25,000.
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 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 as soon as possible.
- 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.
- Check the Small Claims Court website, the Provincial Court website, and the Ministry of Justice website. It has guides on making a claim, replying to a claim, serving documents, getting ready for court, getting results, and mediation.
- Check the other Dial-A-Law scripts in this Small Claims Court series.
[updated November 2016]
The above was last reviewed for accuracy by Anna Kurt and edited by John Blois.
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