Is a Small Claims Court Case Easy to Win?

Reality TV Court Shows Are Far Different Than An Actual Small Claims Court Which Is a Genuine Court of Law Operating As a Division Within the Superior Court of Justice. While the Small Claims Court Does Have a Unique Set of Procedural Rules, the Substantive Law Applicable to the Issues In Dispute Remains Unchanged.

Understanding Why It Is the Small Claims Court Rather Than the Simple Cases Court Requires Appreciation of Legal Formality

Lawsuit Document It is known as the Small Claims Court rather than the Simple Claims Court because litigation for sums of money less than $35,000 can be as complicated, and sometimes even more so, than cases beyond the $35,000 limit of Small Claims Court (the limit of $35,000 became effective January 1 2020).  Do note that the $35,000 limit applies exclusive of court costs, legal representation costs, and interest.

The Procedural Law

Similarly to legal disputes for amounts over the $35,000 limit of the Small Claims Court, as are litigated within the higher court, a Small Claims Court case involves a procedural set of rules that apply and govern the stages and steps within the process of how a legal matter is conducted. Additionally, the substantive law specific to the issues within the legal dispute also apply. For a Small Claims Court case, the Rules of the Small Claims Court set out the procedural law as, essentially, a how to manual for the requirements of conducting a Small Claims Court case. This procedural law prescribes the documents required as well as a general step-by-step outline for how a case moves from one stage to another stage.

Interestingly, although the Rules of the Small Claims Court are a set of rules, the rules are very flexible and may receive significant latitude by a judge of the Small Claims Court. Additionally, a judge in the Small Claims Court may make reference to the Rules of Civil Procedure, R.R.O. 1990, Regulation 194, where necessary.  This flexibility in applying the Rules of the Small Claims Court was confirmed and explained by the Court of Appeal within the reasons for decision as stated in Kelava v. Spadacini, 2021 ONCA 428.  Specifically, the Rules of the Small Claims Court and the reasons in Kelava state:

General Principle

1.03 (1) These rules shall be liberally construed to secure the just, most expeditious and least expensive determination of every proceeding on its merits in accordance with section 25 of the Courts of Justice Act.

Matters Not Covered in Rules

(2) If these rules do not cover a matter adequately, the court may give directions and make any order that is just, and the practice shall be decided by analogy to these rules, by reference to the Courts of Justice Act and the Act governing the action and, if the court considers it appropriate, by reference to the Rules of Civil Procedure

[15]  The Small Claims Court is a branch of the Superior Court of Justice. It handles nearly half of the civil disputes in the province. The court is meant to provide an efficient, cost-effective forum for the resolution of civil disputes involving less than $35,000. It hears cases in a summary way and “may make such order as is considered just and agreeable to good conscience”: The Courts of Justice Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. C.43, s. 25.

[16]  In short, the court embodies the foundations of access to justice: informality, affordability, timely resolution, accessibility for self-represented people and active judicial engagement. By providing access to justice, the court has an important role in the administration of justice for the province.

...

[18]  The rules are to be read in their entire context having regard to their nature, purpose, scheme, and object.  The Small Claims Court Rules, read in their entirety, emphasize facilitating access to justice. They begin with guidance as to their interpretation. Rule 1.03(1) provides:

These rules shall be liberally construed to secure the just, most expeditious and least expensive determination of every proceeding on its merits in accordance with section 25 of the Courts of Justice Act. O. Reg. 258/98, r. 1.03 (1). [Emphasis added]

[19]      To further provide for the achievement of their objectives, the rules give broad discretion to the court. If the rules do not directly address a matter, the court may give directions and make “any order that is just”. In order to implement the order, the practice is to be decided by analogy to the Small Claims Court Rules. Then, “if the court considers it appropriate” the court may refer to the Rules of Civil ProcedureRule 1.03(2) provides:

If these rules do not cover a matter adequately, the court may give directions and make any order that is just, and the practice shall be decided by analogy to these rules, by reference to the Courts of Justice Act and the Act governing the action and, if the court considers it appropriate, by reference to the Rules of Civil Procedure. O. Reg. 78/06, s. 3. [Emphasis added.]

Additional Resources:

For sources of further helpful information regarding the rules of procedure and forms applicable to the Small Claims Court, see:

Learn More About
Rules of the Small Claims Court
Learn More About
Forms of the Small Claims Court

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