Small Claims Court | British Columbia - Small Claims Court
Most cases can be heard in Small Claims Court provided the amount of money or the value of the goods or services involved is $35,000 or less (interest not included). The Provincial Court now deals with cases from $5001 to $35,000 in its “Small Claims court”. The changes came about on June 1, 2017. Cases involving up to $5000 now go to the Civil Resolution Tribunal or CRT, which is Canada’s first online tribunal. The CRT now resolves small claims disputes $5,000 and under.
Before deciding to use the court to settle a dispute, consider that court proceedings are costly and time consuming. You may want to try to reach a compromise out of court.
How much will it cost?
Starting your action i.e. filing a 'Notice of Claim', will cost $100 for suits up to $3,000 and $156 for suits over $3,000 plus the cost of serving the defendant with a summons. The claimant may serve the Notice of Claim or may have another adult serve it. Fees for personal service by a private process server start at about $25, depending on the current rates and on the distance that must be travelled. Later, there may be other costs for such things as serving garnisheeing orders, judgement summons, payments to witnesses and travelling expenses. If you decide to hire a lawyer, fees will depend on the lawyer’s hourly rate and the complexity of the case; expect to spend at least $400 if your case goes to court. You cannot claim your lawyer’s fees against the defendant. [Small Claims Fees]
How much do you get back if you win?
If you win, the judge will usually award your filing fee, your service costs, nominal fee for your witnesses and the amount found to be owing to you. If you have travelling costs or expert witness fees to pay, the judge might also award these costs if you ask for them. You will not recover anything for time lost from work or for your lawyer’s costs, but neither do you have to pay for the defendant’s time or lawyer if you lose. Also keep in mind that it may be difficult to collect your judgement if the defendant does not have sufficient funds.
What does the registry do and what do you have to do yourself?
The registry supplies you with necessary forms and the information needed to fill them out but you are responsible for the paperwork. Arranging for service, contacting witnesses, preparing your case, and presenting your case in court are also your responsibilities. Once you have a judgement, you may have to take further steps to collect. The registry staff can give you information on how to do these things, but cannot give you legal advice.
Should you hire a lawyer?
Many people have successfully conducted their own cases in Small Claims Court without prior experience. Knowledge of the law is not expected of litigants, but the rules of the court must be followed. There may be more to do than you first expect. A lawyer will make the process much easier for you, but the cost of hiring one usually means that it’s only worthwhile for the larger claims.
Where do you go to start your case?
You can start a small claims case by filing a summons at any Provincial Court (Small Claims) registry in BC. There are certain rules, however, about where your trial must take place. If a Small Claims Court exists in a municipality where the claim arose or where the defendant or one of the defendants lives or carries on business, the trial must be heard there. If there is more than one, you have a choice. If there is no such court, then the trial must be heard at the Court closest to where the defendant lives or carries on business or the court closest to where the cause of action rose. You can have the trial heard in any Small Claims Court in the province if the defendant appears at the trial and consents to having the trial heard in that court.
What do you need to know to start a suit?
To start your small claims suit, you must know who you should sue. First, determine who the appropriate defendants are. For example, in most motor vehicle claims, you should sue both the driver and the registered owner of the vehicle involved.
Make sure you have the defendant’s correct name and an address within British Columbia where he or she can be served with the summons. This may be either a home or business address. If the defendant lives and carries on business outside British Columbia, you will need a special court order.
Check whether the defendant is incorporated as a limited company or if the defendant is considered a business under the law. A limited company is usually registered in Victoria and its name ends in "Limited" ("Ltd."), "Corporation" ("Corp."), or "Incorporated" ("Inc."), or an equivalent in French. If you are not sure, request a company search from:
BC Registries & Online Services: Corporate Registry [Website]
2nd Floor - 940 Blanshard Street, Victoria, BC V8W 3E6
General Enquiries: (250)387-7848 | (250) 356-5986
Toll Free: 1 877 526-1526
Search: (250) 387-5101
Elsewhere in BC contact ENQUIRY BC
Give the name of the firm involved and enclose a cheque or money order for $10, payable to the Minister of Finance and Corporate Relations. If it is not incorporated you should sue the proprietor of the business as well as the business itself. Keep the search information; it can be useful later on. If the defendant is a limited company, find out the correct legal name and registered office address.
What happens after you start the suit?
After the summons is filed in the Small Claims Court registry and served on the defendant, the defendant has 14 days to file a notice of intention to dispute your claim. If the defendant disputes it, the registry sets a date for a settlement conference and both sides are notified. If the defendant does not dispute your claim but does not pay, you may apply to the registrar of the court for a judgement by default order. If you are suing for damages, you will have to go before a judge to prove the amount to which you are entitled. Trials are held before a provincial court judge. If you are awarded judgement at trial or by default, you may still have to take enforcement proceedings through the court to collect the money owing.
How can you find out more?
Information about each step in the suit is attached to most of the relevant forms. The Small Claims Court registry staff in your area will supply you with the appropriate forms as you need them. Each registry has a book of completed forms for you to use as examples and a procedure manual which you may refer to for more detail and for information about special procedures. If your case goes to trial, you should study a pamphlet called Getting Ready For Trial available from the court registry and usually sent out with notices of hearing. (This information, reprinted from Small Claims Court published by the Ministry of Attorney General, is intended as a guide only. Forms, procedure, and practice vary and are subject to change. [Review FAQs-Click here] ['How to' Guides]