When someone has wronged you and you feel entitled to financial compensation or reimbursement, your first instinct may be to file a lawsuit. With our neighbours to the south operating on a sue now, ask questions later policy and popular American television, providing the majority of legal education people receive we are almost brainwashed to believe that filing lawsuit is always our best option. However, that may not be the case in every situation.
Ontario Small Claims Court
In Ontario, Small Claims Court has a maximum claim amount of $25,000.00, which means that if you intend to sue for anything exceeding that amount you cannot go through the easier flowing channels offered in Small Claims Court. The benefit of going through Small Claims Court is that most people are self-represented which saves on lawyer fees. Lawyer fees can be tricky when a lawsuit is involved because fees have a tendency to get out of control and suddenly you are left paying a large legal bill whether you are successful with your suit or not. This is why people often opt to represent themselves when filing suit in Small Claims Court.
Self-Representation in Court
There are problems that come from self-representation too. For instance, not knowing the law is not an excuse that any Small Claims Court judge will be willing to tolerate. Yes, there is a certain amount of leniency applied to your court proceedings if you are self-represented, but do not expect to elicit sympathy simply because you chose not to hire a professional to represent you.
Filing in Small Claims Court is also not a cheap process. There are filing fees associated with every form and procedure filed with the court and if these fees are not paid then your file will not be moving forward. Self-representation also takes a considerable amount of your personal time. Time to research what your rights are and what the proper course of action is, time to appear in court, time to gather all necessary documentation, draft pleadings and ample time to review everything and ensure proper procedure is followed. For someone who already has a full-time job this can be an extremely difficult undertaking. Hiring an experienced paralegal professional can help you through this difficult process.
In many situations filing a lawsuit against a person is the only way you can receive what is legally yours. However it is worth taking a step back and evaluating the big picture. Simply because the maximum claim amount is $25,000.00, do not expect to receive that much money in a settlement simply because that is what was claimed. Be realistic in your thinking of what you are likely to receive and weigh that amount against the out-of-pocket expenses and your personal time investment required to successfully file and win the lawsuit. It may not always be in your best interest to sue. You also run the risk of having to pay costs to the other party if you are not successful.
Another consideration is that even if you are successful, having a judge rule in your favour is not the same as collecting the money owed to you. A debtor may not pay the monetary judgment voluntarily. Winning in court is only the first step in the process, it is not a guarantee of payment. You may be required to take additional steps, including attending an Examination Hearing (to obtain financial information), begin a garnishment process, or obtain and execute a Writ of Seizure and Sale of personal property or land. Depending on the debtor’s circumstances (if they have a job, property, or any asset of value), if may be quite difficult to receive compensation. Before you spend all of your time and money on court proceedings, you may want to think about if the other party has the income or assets to pay a court award.
Court Coach LLP offers legal coaching and advice to guide self-represented clients through family law proceedings. Contact us today to learn more about our legal coaching services!