January 24, 2020
How Ontario’s New Procedure Can Make Resolving Your Small Claims Case Easier and Simpler
Starting on January 1, 2020, there will be changes made to the procedures in Ontario’s Small Claims Court. These changes are intended to clear some of the backlogs in the provincial Superior Court of Justice and make it easier for claimants in the Small Claims Court to resolve their disputes.
If you are considering going through the process of Small Claims Court, you are probably wondering how these new procedures will affect your claim.
Here is a breakdown of the recent changes and how they can help make your experience in Small Claims Court simpler.
What Is Small Claims Court?
The Small Claims Court in Ontario is a branch of the Superior Court of Justice that hears claims for civil disputes. These claims include damages to property, personal injury, and breach of contract and also hears claims for money owed such as unpaid accounts, and loans.
If you win your claim in Small Claims Court, you are also entitled to receive something called costs. These costs include fees for legal filing, legal advice and representation fees, as well as printing and serving documents. For Small Claims Court, if you are successful, you can be awarded costs in addition to the amount of the claim. The costs are limited by the Courts of Justice Act to 15% of the total amount of your claim, plus any disbursements.
When you file a claim in Small Claims Court, there is a proper procedure to follow for every step with an accompanying form to fill out.
The forms you may need include:
- Plaintiff’s Claim
- Defendant’s Claim
- List of Proposed Witnesses
- Offer to Settle
- Terms of Settlement
- Summons to Witness
- Notice of Default of Payment
For a complete list of the available forms and instructions on how to start the small claims court process, you can visit the website of the Attorney General.
In Small Claims Court, It is not necessary to have a lawyer represent you. Many people choose to represent themselves in court or hire a law student or paralegal to represent their case, which can significantly reduce the costs.
What Are The Changes To The Procedure?
Previously, the limit for the Small Claims Court to hear claims was for money or personal property of a value of $25,000 or less. For claims of amounts higher than $25,000, you had to file your claim with the Superior Court of Justice and go through a more complicated process.
This lower maximum claim amount has led to a significant backlog of claims made in the Superior Court, where it can sometimes take years to hear a claim. In the Superior Court, you are wise to have lawyer to file a claim given the more complicated process compared to the Small Claims Court, which can add to the cost of a claim significantly.
The New Changes to Small Claims Court procedure include:
- New Monetary Limit for Commencing A Claim – the monetary limit for claims proceeding in the Small Claims Court is increasing from $25,000 to $35,000
- Someone who started their claim in the Superior Court can transfer their case to the Small Claims Court if it falls within this limit.
What Is The Reason For These Changes?
Ontario is making these changes to the court procedures in an attempt to make it “faster, easier, and more affordable to settle claims,” says Attorney General Doug Downey. The aim is to clear the backlog of cases in the Superior Court System, currently one of the busiest court systems in Canada.
These increased amounts make it possible for more claims to be heard through the more simple procedure in Small Claims Court. These changes should make filing a claim more accessible for more people and reduce some of the financial barriers to filing a case. The simplified procedures also make it more accessible to people representing themselves in their case.
Other provinces have made similar changes to their Small Claims Court procedures in previous years. Alberta increased its maximum claim amount to $50,000, up from $25,000, and B.C has a limit of $35,000. The last time that the Ontario government made any increase to its claim amounts was in 2010.
The bottom line, these changes are an attempt to make things easier for claimants with smaller claims and to free up some judiciary resources in the Superior Court. Hopefully, if there is an increase in the number of cases filed in Small Claims Court because of these new incentives, that there are additional resources put in that direction to help cases move through as quickly as possible.
Many people may have chosen not to file a claim in the past because their claim amounts would mean they had to go through the Superior Court. Filing a claim in the Superior Court means longer to wait to resolve a claim, higher legal fees, more complicated procedures and a risk of paying higher fees if their claim is not successful.
If you lose in superior court, you may be asked to pay all of the other side’s legal fees, which can sometimes mean hundreds of thousands of dollars compared to the 15% of the total claim limit in the Small Claims Court. This cost is a significant financial risk that may dissuade many people from filing a claim.
The Ontario court system has also been criticized in the past for not doing enough to make the judicial system accessible to more people. These procedural changes will help simplify the claims process and make it possible for more people to access the Small Claims Court with their claim.
We Can Help
If you have questions about the new Ontario procedure changes or about filing a claim in the Small Claims Court and live in the Peterborough, Whitby or Richmond Hill area, get in touch with the team at Michelle Linka Lawyers.