In British Columbia, most civil law disputes worth between $5001 and $35,000 are heard in Small Claims Court. This is a division of BC’s Provincial Court.
Claims made after June 1, 2017 for $5000 or less will proceed through the Civil Resolution Tribunal (CRT). Furthermore, as of April 1, 2019, most claims for motor vehicle accidents and injuries for an amount of $50, 000 or less will proceed through the CRT. This includes disputes about accident benefits, disputes about damages and fault up to $50,000, and determining whether an injury is a “minor injury”.
If your claim is for more than $35,000 or your motor vehicle claim is over $50,000 it will be heard in BC Supreme Court.
Starting a claim
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 between $5001 and $35,000. 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 (other than for motor vehicle accident injury) up to $35,000.
- To get back items (other than land) where the value of the items is between $5001 and $35,000.
- To get a court order requiring a person to complete a contract for goods or services between $5001 and $35,000.
- To get a court order that will stop someone from suing you for your property (other than land) where the value of the property is between $5001 and $35,000.
Regardless of the amount 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, but 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, a settlement conference, a trial conference, and a trial.
- 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: Collecting on Judgment).
- 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: Appealing a Small Claims Court Decision).
This is an important step because the court location will determine the specific court process that the case will follow.
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 Start a Claim. To learn what to do if someone is suing you, read 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.
Learn more about Small Claims procedure here.