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Court Process Overview

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.
  • This is an important step because the court location will determine the specific court process that the case will follow.

  • 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 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.