Going to Court

If you and the other person cannot solve your legal problem on your own, you might have to go to court. It is sometimes a good idea to talk to a lawyer about your case. A lawyer can explain the court system to you and tell you what the result of your case might be.

The usual steps in taking a case to Small Claims Court are set out below.

The claimant starts the legal action

The party starting the legal action is called the claimant. The party being sued is called the defendant. The claimant decides where to file his or her claim. It must be in the court registry nearest to either

  • Where the defendant lives (or has a business) or
  • Where the event that led to the claim happened

The claimant starts by filling out a “Notice of Claim” form. Court forms are the documents that the parties complete and file in the court registry. They move the case through the court system. The forms have instructions. They are available at the Small Claims Court registry or online.

The claimant takes the Notice of Claim form to the Small Claims Court registry in the courthouse and pays a filing fee. The registry clerk reviews the form, keeps a copy, and returns copies of the form to the claimant. The registry also gives the claimant another form, called a Reply. The claimant personally serves (personally delivers) a copy of the completed Notice of Claim form, and a blank copy of the Reply form to the defendant.

A person who cannot afford to pay the filing fee can apply to the court registrar to go ahead without paying.

The defendant replies

The Notice of Claim form and the Reply form are served (delivered personally) on the defendant (the party being sued).  The defendant has 14 days to fill out the Reply form and file it in the Small Claims Court registry. In the Reply, the defendant gives an answer to the claim. In other words, the defendant tells his or her side of the story, and explains why he or she disagrees with all or part of the claim. The court registry mails the Reply to the claimant.

If the defendant does not reply

The defendant might not reply to the notice of claim. Maybe he or she thinks that the claimant will just give up.  If the defendant has not filed a Reply within 14 days after he or she was properly served with the notice of claim, the claimant can get an order from a judge for whatever he or she was claiming. This is called a default order.

The settlement conference

A settlement conference is a meeting with a judge, the claimant, and the defendant. The purpose of the conference is to discuss the dispute and try to settle it without having a trial in court.

The judge asks some questions about the dispute and finds out if the parties can agree how to resolve the dispute. For example, the defendant might owe $12,000 to the claimant, but the claimant may agree to accept $9,000 if the money is paid right away. In this case, the judge makes an order for the defendant to pay $9,000 to the claimant and it is the same as if the judge made that order after a trial.

If the parties cannot reach an agreement, a trial date will be set. If the trial will last more than one-half day, there will be another 30-minute meeting, called a “trial conference,” where everyone meets again to talk about the trial. The judge tries again to get the parties to settle their dispute. If they cannot do this, the judge helps the parties get ready for trial.

The judge could dismiss the claim. If the judge does not believe that the claimant has a valid claim, the judge can stop the legal action before the trial.

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