Here we explain the steps of the small claims process and why speaking to an experienced lawyer ahead of time may help you succeed with your suit.
As a branch of Ontario’s Superior Court of Justice, the Small Claims Court handles claims up to and including $35,000. If your suit is for a higher figure, you must take it to the Superior Court of Justice, which requires you to follow a more complex civil litigation process.
Assuming your suit falls within the claim boundaries, it’s also important to note that the Small Claims Court primarily hears suits related to money owed. For example, you will go to Small Claims Court in cases of unpaid rent or failure to pay for goods and services. You may also be able to make claims for damages that led to monetary loss, such as personal injuries, breaches of contract, and property damage.
Finally, the Small Claims Court allows you to claim a portion of your legal fees as part of your suit, though this is usually capped at 15% of the amount you claim. In some cases, such as if the other party makes an Offer to Settle, that cap can increase to 30% of your claim.
Once you’re satisfied that your proposed suit meets the criteria for the Small Claims Court to hear it you can move on to preparing and executing the suit.
A Notice of Claim is essentially a form that you complete and file with the court’s registry. It’s also the form that you’ll serve to the opposing party to inform them of your intent to sue.
Use this notice to describe the circumstances that led to you making your claim and how much money you wish to retrieve from the other party. You don’t need to go into too much detail here, as you’ll tell the full story of your claim once you reach a settlement conference.
You must file your claim with the Small Claims Court registry before you can serve it to the other party. It’s up to you which registry you file in, as there are several in Ontario. Note that you also have to pay a filing fee, ranging from $108 to $228. Although you may be able to claim this back as part of your suit.
You can serve your Notice of Claim via registered mail or personal service, with the latter involving a law enforcement official personally serving the notice on your behalf. Your notice should also include a reply form, which the defendant completes and sends to the Small Claims Court.
Upon receiving the Notice of Claim, the defendant has 20 calendar days to make their reply and file their defence. Assuming they don’t respond within 20 days, you have the option of requesting to note the defendant in default.
If that request is successful, the defendant won’t be able to take part in the case. You can then ask for a default judgement.
If the defendant lodges a defence, both parties must attend a settlement conference. You’ll stand before a judge and present your evidence. The judge then provides suggestions on how to resolve the matter. If you accept a suggestion the suit is over. If you don’t, you may move on to trial.
While you can file a small claim independently, it helps to have a lawyer in your corner for several reasons:
Legalhood can make the small claims process easier. Our service starts at just $99 (plus taxes) and involves a simple application process. We’ll review your claim, ensure delivery to the Small Claims Court, and provide full proof of receipt of your claim. To find out more, discover our small claims service online today.