Have You Been Sued in Small Claims Court?
What you should consider and do when sued in Small Claims Court
Most of us go through our lives following the rules and meeting our obligations to one another. Occasionally, however, even the best of us may find ourselves in a situation where we may be the subject of a lawsuit in the Ontario Small Claims Court. Sometimes these lawsuits have merit and other times they do not. In either case, this article will give you some information on how to act should you find yourself on the receiving of a Small Claims Court lawsuit.
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Confirm that it is a Valid Claim
While it is highly unlikely that someone will go to the trouble or risk of issuing a bogus claim it always pays to be sure that what one is dealing with is the genuine article. To that end, there are a few things you can check to make sure that the document you have received is a bona fide claim from the Ontario Small Claims Court.
- In the top left-hand corner of the first page it will say Superior Court of Justice and beneath that there will be a spot for a court stamp. If the claim was filed electronically there will be a stamp and a notation that the claim was issued electronically. If the claim was filed at a courthouse there may or may not be a court stamp.
- In the top middle of the page there will be an address of the Small Claims Court the claim was filed in. There should also be a telephone number for the court.
- On the top right-hand corner of the form it should say Plaintiff’s Claim, Form 7A and beneath that there should be a court file number.
- On the bottom of page three of the Plaintiff’s Claim there should be a signature from either the Plaintiff or the Plaintiff’s representative. If the claim was filed at a courthouse there will be an issued date and a clerk signature or stamp. If the claim was filed electronically there will be no such information.
If you are still uncertain as to the legitimacy of the document, you can call the courthouse and ask them to confirm the existence of the claim by giving them the court file number.
It should be noted that errors in the spelling of your name or address do not invalidate a claim and consequently do not disregard a claim if such errors exist.
Under the Rules of the Small Claims Court a Defendant only has twenty calendar days to serve and file a Defence from the date service of the Plaintiff’s Claim is deemed to be effective. This is not a lot of time. Consequently, you need to decide relatively quickly if you are going to represent yourself or retain a legal professional, such as a paralegal or a lawyer, to act for you. In either event, it does not hurt to get a free initial consultation with a legal professional to determine if that is the best course of action for you.
As an aside, sometimes we have people who call us who believe they have a legitimate claim in their possession but do not believe they were served with it in accordance with the Rules of the Small Claims Court. Our advice is to always treat a claim as being properly served and to act within the aforesaid twenty days. You never know how a Plaintiff may allege service occurred and the last thing you want is to be noted in default for failing to defend against a legitimate Plaintiff’s Claim.
Whether you agree with the Plaintiff’s Claim or not you should always respond to it otherwise default judgment may be entered against you. Judgments adversely affect your credit record and leave you vulnerable to judgment enforcement methods such as garnishments and writs of seizure and sale. Here are your three options when responding to a Plaintiff’s Claim:
- Admit the full amount of the Plaintiff’s Claim and propose terms of payment. By doing so you avoid a judgment being entered against you and payment terms can be arranged that you can afford. If the Plaintiff does not agree with your terms, then a judge will hear from the parties at a hearing and make a determination as to what the payments should be.
- Admit part of the claim and propose terms of payment on it and dispute the balance of the claim. In such a situation the Plaintiff then again has the option of disputing the payment terms but, in any event, the disputed part of the Plaintiff’s Claim will then move forward to a preliminary hearing called a Settlement Conference.
- Dispute the full amount of the Plaintiff’s Claim and have the matter proceed to a Settlement Conference. If the matter does not settle, then the Plaintiff has the option of setting the matter down for trial.
Do I Need Legal Representation?
Litigation is a knowledge intensive enterprise and that is why there is an entire profession built around it. A skilled and experienced legal professional, such as a paralegal or a lawyer, will be able to assess your situation and apply the appropriate legal principles to it.
But knowing the legal principles as they apply to your case is only half the battle. There also remains knowing how to effectively litigate a case in the Ontario Small Claims Court. This can be quite a daunting task for the lay person who is unfamiliar with the Rules of the Small Claims Court specifically and the rules of advocacy generally. Consequently, if you are dealing with a case involving $3,500.00 or more you may wish to look into retaining a legal representative for some or all of your legal matter. At Precision Paralegal Services we can help you determine how to best move forward with your matter. We offer both limited scope, or full scope retainers, meaning that we can assist with a portion of your matter, fully represent your matter, or provide coaching to help you represent yourself. Contact us today to set up a consultation to determine how to best proceed with your matter.
Click here to schedule your free consultation today!