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Depending on the nature of your personal injury claim, suing the defendant in small claims court may be an option for you. This court specializes in claims under a certain dollar value and provides many benefits over regular civil court to litigants. Here's more information to help you decide if suing in small claims court is the best option for you to collect damages for injuries caused by a defendant.
Benefits of Small Claims Court
One of the benefits of small claims court is that it's often a lot faster than litigating a case in regular civil court. Many times, you'll obtain a court date much sooner than you normally would get with a case pending in a regular court. This is likely because small claims courts set a limit on the amount of money you can recover and only hear certain types of cases.
For example, small claims courts in British Columbia do not decide on cases involving wills and estates, malicious prosecution, or trademarks, among other types. This cuts down on the number of cases passing through the court, resulting in a reduction in wait times.
Additionally, the proceedings are typically presided over by a judge, so you don't have to spend time sorting through a jury, and the judge will often hand down a decision either while you're in court or a few days afterwards. So in addition to getting before a judge faster, your case will be resolved quicker, minimizing the amount of time and effort required to litigate the case.
Another benefit is the proceedings tend to be more informal than those in regular court because litigants are allowed to represent themselves. The judge may allow litigants some leeway when presenting their cases, which can make the proceedings a little less stressful and minimize the risk of your case getting bogged down in legal technicalities.
Lastly, you may have a choice of where to litigate your case. For instance, if you live in one province and the defendant lives in another, you could sue in the court near your home or take your case to a court in the person's area. This is particularly beneficial if the damage limitations are higher in one area. For instance, you can only sue for up to $20,000 in damages in Saskatchewan small claims courts, but the maximum claim amount in Ontario is $25,000.
Disadvantages of Small Claims Court
Suing in small claims court is not without its drawbacks. The damage limitation can be troublesome since you can only collect the maximum amount allowed in the court's jurisdiction and you cannot stack court cases to get around the restriction. This means that if the courts allow you to collect $25,000 but you have $40,000 in damages, you'll lose $15,000 by taking your case to small claims court. However, considering the increased costs associated with litigating in regular civil court (e.g. the addition of attorney's fees), you may break even in this area.
You may not be able to appeal the decision, though this option may be available to the defendant. In many areas, the judge's ruling is final in small claims court cases and you'll just have to live with it. For instance, in Quebec, you can only challenge the judgment if the case should not have been heard in small claims court in the first place, and a defendant can only appeal if fraud or other similar, serious reason was in play during the case.
Lastly, the judge's lack of specialization coupled with your lack of knowledge may work against you. If a judge doesn't have a lot of experience ruling in a certain legal area (e.g. employment law) and you don't know enough about it either to effectively argue your case, you could end getting less than you're owed or having the judge rule against you.
Small claims court provides a cheaper and faster way to litigate a personal injury claim, but it's not always the best venue for a case. You should talk to a personal injury lawyer to determine if this is a good option for you and to obtain assistance with getting the outcome you want if it is.Share
1 June 2015