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Overview

In British Columbia, civil law disputes worth less than $25,000 are heard in Small Claims Court. This is a division of BC’s Provincial Court.

All civil cases start by making a claim – which is done by completing a standard court form called the Notice of Claim.

The person filing the claim is called the claimant and the person replying to the claim is called the defendant.

Once a Notice of Claim is filed with the court, the first step of the process is complete – but there are many more steps that happen before a lawsuit reaches a trial to be decided by a judge. The information below provides a simple overview of the type of cases the court hears and the process the court follows.

What you can and cannot sue for in Small Claims Court
Before you start a lawsuit, you need to make sure you are taking it to the right court.

In Small Claims Court, you can sue for the following:

  • To get debts owed to you up to $25,000. This does not include any interest or expenses (such as court costs) that a claimant may be entitled to.
  • To receive damages (an amount of money) for personal injury up to $25,000.
  • To get back items (other than land) where the value of the items is not more than $25,000.
  • To get a court order requiring a person to complete a contract for goods or services of not more than $25,000.
  • To get a court order that will stop someone from suing you for your property (other than land) where the value of the property does not exceed $25,000.

Even if the amount involved is small, you cannot sue for the following in Small Claims Court:

  • Defamation (libel or slander) or malicious prosecution
  • Disputes where the title to land comes into question
  • Landlord and tenant matters or issues that deal with possession or occupation of a residence (see the Residential Tenancy Branch),
  • Matters that require the granting of an injunction (making an order to stop someone from doing an activity)

Small Claims Court Procedures

  • The claimant decides where to file his or her claim. This is an important step because the court location will determine the specific court process that the case will follow. The claim needs to be filed in the court registry nearest to either:
    • where the defendant lives or carries on business, or
    • where the event that led to the claim happened.
  • The claimant starts the lawsuit by filling out a Notice of Claim form. Once completed, the claimant will register it with the court and then be sure that the defendant receives a copy as well. This is called filing a claim and serving documents. The defendant must reply to the claim or a judgment may be made against him/her. (Learn more: Court Forms).
  • The case proceeds through the court process according to the court registry where the claim was filed. Steps could include a summary trial, a simplified trial, mediation, a settlement conference, a trial conference, and a trial. (Learn more: Court Processes).
  • If the claimant is successful but does not receive payment, or if the defendant wants to arrange a new payment schedule, a payment hearing or default hearing could be held.
  • If a defendant fails to honor a payment order or payment schedule, the claimant can take several different steps to enforce the judgment. (Learn more: Court Decisions).
  • If either the claimant or the defendant believe that justice has not been served, both parties have the right to appeal the decision to the BC Supreme Court. (Learn more: Court Decisions).

This quick summary provides you with a sense of how a case may proceed in Small Claims Court. To learn more, watch the Court Processes video (above).

To learn about how to sue someone, read How to Start a Claim. To learn what to do if someone is suing you, read How to Reply to a Claim. The information that follows will help you to get started with your case – whether you are the claimant or the defendant.