Suing in Small Claims Court
This month's On the Radar highlights information about making a claim in Small Claims Court, as featured on the Steps to Justice website.
What Small Claims Court deals with
Small Claims Court deals with most types of "civil" claims. This means that people can go to Small Claims Court if:
- someone owes them money, like unpaid loans or wages
- someone has taken, lost, or damaged their property
- someone broke a contract with them, for example, by not doing repairs or renovations properly
- an employer fired them unfairly
- they bought something that was defective or wasn't what it was advertised to be
The most important limit is that Small Claims Court deals only with claims of up to $25,000.
And most claims must be filed within 2 years of when the person first learned about the problem.
Giving a completed claim form and documents to the court is called "filing a claim".
Before going to court, people should usually try other ways of solving the problem, such as:
- sending what's often called a "demand letter", which explains what they want and why
- talking to the other person to try to find a solution
- getting a mediator to help find a solution
If these methods don't work, the plaintiff, who's the person who wants to sue, needs to do some things to be ready to file their claim with the court.
The plaintiff needs copies of all of the documents that support their claim. Depending on what the claim is about, this might include things like:
The plaintiff must make enough copies of the documents so they can:
- email messages or letters that show what happened
- receipts and delivery slips
- NSF cheques
- keep their own copy
- attach a copy to the claim
- give a copy to each defendant
Getting the correct name of the person or company to sue
It's important to use the full name of each defendant and to spell it correctly.
If the claim is against a company or business, the plaintiff might have to do a business name search to make sure they get the name right.
Choosing the right court location
The plaintiff has to figure out which courthouse to file their claim in. This depends on where the events took place or where the defendant lives or has their business.
Completing the Plaintiff's Claim form
Once the plaintiff has all the information and documents they need, they have to fill out a Plaintiff's Claim form.
There's information on how to complete this form in the Guide to Making a Claim.
Filing the claim with the court
People can file their claims online, by mail, or at the court office.
The fee to file a Plaintiff's Claim is usually $95.
If the plaintiff can't afford this fee or other court fees, they can ask for a "fee waiver" by filling out a Fee Waiver Request to Registrar, Clerk or Sheriff.
Getting legal help
People don't need lawyers to go to Small Claims Court. But they may want to talk to a paralegal or lawyer to get:
- legal advice about what to do based on their situation and what the court might decide
- help with the court process, for example, filling out forms
People with low incomes might be able to get legal help from Pro Bono Ontario.
In Ottawa and Toronto, Pro Bono Ontario provides duty counsel lawyers at Small Claims Court. Duty counsel lawyers give advice and can sometimes help people represent themselves in court.
There is detailed information about the court process in the Ministry of the Attorney General's Small Claims Court Guides to Procedures.