If you think you have a legal claim against someone, it can often be settled without going to court or even without filing legal documents. Try writing a letter or talking to the other person about the problem. Or a lawyer or mediator might be able to help you work things out. Lawsuits can be expensive, stressful and time consuming so it’s worth exploring all your options for resolving your disagreement without going to court.
If you do decide to sue someone or if someone is suing you (remember you must have a litigation guardian), it’s useful to understand the terms that are used. These terms include:
- Claimant or petitioner: the person who starts the process, or makes the claim.
- Defendant or respondent: the person on the other side; the person being sued.
- Pleadings: the formal written claims and defences used to start and defend a lawsuit.
- Serving documents: means getting the paperwork to another person, according to the law.
- Style of cause: shows who is suing and who is being sued. For example, Smith v. Jones.
- Damages: includes money for financial loss, property loss, emotional or physical injuries, loss or earnings, or costs of care.
A case gets started when one side files and serves a court document called a Notice of Claim (or sometimes a Petition). The Notice of Claim says what the person’s legal claims are and what they want the court to order.
Then the other side can file their own documents (called a Reply or Response) presenting their position.
The first step in a lawsuit involves knowing which court will hear the case. CourtsofBC.ca provides information and videos that describe the three levels of court in BC.
Small Claims Court
Small Claims Court is the place people go if their case involves amounts between $5,001 and $35,000. You can have a lawyer in Small Claims Court, but most of the time, people represent themselves. You have to have a litigation guardian if you are under 19 and, if your cases involves personal injury, you have to have a lawyer.
Small Claims Court is a division of British Columbia’s Provincial Court. It generally costs less and takes less time than going to Supreme Court. A judge alone hears cases in Small Claims Court. Learn more about making a civil claim on SmallClaimsBC.ca. This website has several how-to videos, it describes the steps you have to follow and it lists the court forms to fill out. The Law Centre website at the University of Victoria contains a series of factsheets about Small Claims Court.
The Supreme Court of BC is the place where larger claims are heard, for lawsuits over $35,000. In this court, a judge or a jury would hear the case. But usually it’s a judge alone. Learn more about civil matters in the Supreme Court at SupremeCourtBC.ca.