Many people attempt to avoid litigation due to the perception that the cost is prohibitive and the time required is extensive. These can both be true, however, there are some procedures in place for claims limited to smaller figures that provide greater access to the litigation process. As of January 2020, these processes will become even more accessible to those seeking to enforce a claim in court.
Small Claims Court
Current to bring an action in Small Claims Court, the damages sought must be capped at $25,000. However, as of January 1, 2020, that amount will be increasing to $35,000. This will enable more people to take advantage of this process, which often sees claims resolved in under a year, saving the parties time and money. In addition, with more cases being diverted to Small Claims Court, this will help to ease the backlog in the Superior Court of Justice as well, cutting down wait times there as well.
Codified under Rule 76 of Ontario’s Rules of Civil Procedure, Simplified Procedure is another way that litigants can reduce the time and cost necessary to bring a claim in court. Currently, the monetary limit for a claim under this process is $100,000, however, this is also set to increase in the new year. As of January 2020, the cap will double, allowing claimants to bring an action for up to $200,000 under Rule 76.
Which Cases Can be Heard Under Rule 76?
Simplified Procedure is open to many cases that fall within the monetary limits, but not all. To use this process, the claim must be seeking money, real property, and/or personal property. For example, if an employee were seeking reinstatement to their role after being terminated, Simplified Procedure would not be available. However, if that same employee were seeking damages for wrongful dismissal that fit within the cap, then they could choose this option.
Simplified Procedure is notably not available for the following types of claims:
- Class proceedings
- Construction lien actions
- Case management actions
- Family law cases
- Small Claims Court actions
It should be noted that any case that can be started under Simplified Procedure, should be. If a court finds for a plaintiff who should have used Simplified Procedure but didn’t, they may adust the costs award accordingly. A court will be reluctant to make a defendant pay costs that were incurred unnecessarily.
Key Features of the Simplified Procedure Process
Though a claim totalling $100,000 or $175,000 may not seem insignificant, when factoring in the cost and time requirements of standard litigation, the effort may not seem worth it to the average plaintiff. However, because simplified procedure allows for significant savings in both regards, the process empowers those with smaller claims to seek resolution of their matter without overextending themselves or rendering their efforts moot.
Time is saved by placing limits on certain processes that would normally not apply in a case progressing in the ordinary manner. For example:
This is a process in which each party is allowed to examine the other party under oath, outside of court. While this process can be quite extensive and time-consuming normally, under Simplified Procedure, it is currently limited to two hours per side. However, this is set to increase to three hours in 2020 as well.
Mandatory Mediation & Pre-Trial Conference
In Toronto, Simplified Procedure cases are automatically subject to mandatory mediation, in an attempt to settle the matter prior to trial. If successful, this can be an excellent way to resolve the matter quickly while keeping costs down. If unsuccessful, another attempt to resolve the matter will be made during the mandatory pre-trial conference. Here, each party attends with their legal representation and the judge on the matter in order to assess each party’s position and attempt to come to a resolution.
Restrictions on Costs and Length of Trial
Under the new changes, a Simplified Procedure trial may not extend beyond five days from start to finish. Further, matters proceeding under Rule 76, with a few exceptions, will be prohibited from using a jury. A jury adds significant time and expense to any proceeding.
Parties will also be limited in terms of the amount of costs and disbursements that they can claim. Going forward, costs will be capped at $50,000 and disbursements will be capped at $25,000, exclusive of HST.
Effects of Changes Remain to be Seen
All of these changes will hopefully have two key benefits for Ontario litigants: increasing access to justice for those with smaller monetary claims, and reducing the backlog in Ontario’s courts, allowing all matters to proceed more efficiently. Time will tell whether this will be the case.
If you have questions about the litigation process with respect to a corporate or civil matter, contact GLG LLP in downtown Toronto. The firm’s litigation lawyers provide efficient and skilled trial advocacy for a range of legal issues. Call the firm at 416-272-7557 or contact them online to schedule a confidential consultation.