Ontario Small Claims Court
The Ontario Small Claims Court is a branch of the Superior Court of Justice. It has jurisdiction to hear matters involving the payment of money or the recovery of personal property. The monetary limit is $25,000. The court has its own Small Claims Court Rules and Small Claims Court Forms. The court has about 90 locations across Ontario.
Because the Ontario Small Claims Court is an open civil court there are a wide variety of lawsuits that the court can hear. The time limit for most lawsuits is two years. For more Ontario Small Claims Court information read below.
[ ! ] Common Misconceptions.
The Ontario Small Claims Court is designed to be less complex and faster than the Superior Court. However, there is a belief that court staff will do much of the work for the parties. This is not the case. A matter will not move forward unless a party has completed and filed the necessary paperwork and paid the corresponding fee. Court staff do check paperwork for completeness but they cannot provide legal advice. If you wish to be sure about your legal rights and remedies you should talk to a paralegal or a lawyer.
It is also believed by some that the Ontario Small Claims Court is similar to American television shows such as “Judge Judy” or “The People’s Court.” This is also not the case. In the Ontario Small Claims Court it is the responsibility of a party to present their case, cross-examine an opposing party, make legal submissions and follow the Rules of the Small Claims Court. It is the role of the judge to make a decision based on the evidence and arguments presented. Effective representation makes a difference.
[ > ] Ontario Small Claims Court Chart
[ 1 ] Pleadings.
An Ontario Small Claims Court action begins when a party, referred to as the Plaintiff, goes to court and files a Plaintiff’s Claim against another party, who is referred to as the Defendant. Upon receipt of the Plaintiff’s Claim a Defendant has 20 days to file a Defence. If no Defence is filed a Plaintiff may obtain a default judgment. If this happens then steps 2, 3 and 4 are not necessary.
A Defendant may also file a claim of their own against the Plaintiff or a third party.
For the purpose behind pleadings click here .
[ 2 ] Settlement Conference.
After a Defence is filed the court will schedule a Settlement Conference. A Settlement Conference is a private meeting with the parties and their representatives. It is held before a judge or a mediator. The main purpose is to explore how the matter may be resolved without having to go to trial. Parties are encouraged to talk openly and frankly. Discussions that take place in a Settlement Conference cannot be repeated at trial. A majority of defended cases get resolved at this stage.
If a lawsuit does not settle then the judge will make orders moving the matter along.
For the stated purpose of Settlement Conferences click here .
[ 3 ] Trial Preparation.
At least 30 days before a trial takes place both parties must exchange whatever evidence they plan to rely on if not already done so. Failure to do so may result in the evidence not being admitted by the trial judge.
Any orders made by a Settlement Conference judge need to be complied with.
Once a trial date is scheduled any witnesses that are required should be served with a summons. Their testimony should also be reviewed prior to trial.
Effective trial preparation can take as much time as a trial itself.
For common trial preparation click here .
[ 4 ] Trial.
Trials are by far the most difficult part of a lawsuit. Each trial generally starts with an opening statement. This is followed by each of the parties giving evidence and being cross-examined. After all the evidence has been entered the parties make closing arguments. After hearing the closing arguments the trial judge makes a decision. A decision can be wholly or partially in either party’s favour. After a decision is made the parties make submissions with respect to costs.
An average trial takes about four hours.
For the ten steps in a simple trial click here .
[ 5 ] Enforcement.
If a judgment is not paid voluntarily then the winner, now called the judgment creditor, may take steps to enforce it. A judgment creditor may use any enforcement method permitted by the court.
Court costs spent on enforcement proceedings are added to the judgment amount. Legal fees are not.
Enforcing a judgment can be more difficult than getting a judgment.
For some common enforcement options click here .
[ * ] Divisional Court Appeal.
An appeal of an Ontario Small Claims Court decision must be heard by the Divisional Court. The Divisional Court will only hears appeals for claims over $2,500. An appeal must be filed within 30 days of the court’s decision. Paralegals are not permitted to appear in Divisional Court and so if one were looking for representation they would need to hire the services of a lawyer.
Because of the complexities involved in a Divisional Court appeal it is NOT recommended that one do this on their own. Unfortunately, the costs of a lawyer for an Ontario Small Claims Court appeal can be anywhere from $5,000 to $10,000. As a result, it is usually not cost-effective to appeal an adverse decision.
If you are thinking about appealing a decision keep in mind that you only have 30 days from the date of the decision to do so. For more information on appeals we recommend that you contact a lawyer.