Area of Law: Personal Injury
Answer Number: 463
When can you start a lawsuit?Region: Ontario Answer Number: 463
A civil lawsuit can be brought against a person, business, organization or even a government that has caused you injury or financial loss. Your right to sue, also called litigation, is not affected by whether your injury or loss was caused intentionally or unintentionally. However, you may receive more compensation from the courts or in an out-of-court settlement if the damage was caused intentionally.
Starting a lawsuit is a very serious endeavour with real consequences for all sides. You are accusing the person you are suing of either failing to take the care or precautions that should have been taken, or doing something that should not have been done. While it is possible to bring a lawsuit without legal representation, in most cases it is advisable to seek the assistance of a lawyer. Even where the case will be heard in a Small Claims Court, it is advisable to discuss the legal issues with a lawyer before initiating the action, or before filing a defence.
You should also be aware that if a court views your lawsuit as frivolous, an abuse of the legal system or knowingly without merit, you could be held financially responsible not only for the court’s expenses but also the legal costs of other parties.
Three common categories of civil lawsuits in Ontario
The most common lawsuits fall into three broad categories. First, you can bring a lawsuit for financial loss as a result of a broken contract. This means that you had an oral or written agreement with someone and they failed to perform certain tasks or obligations. You may also sue for financial loss caused by a defective product arising from the implied promises of quality or performance.
Second, you can bring a lawsuit for personal injury. For example, you may have been injured in an automobile accident, by slipping and falling in a store or on a sidewalk, by a doctor or other professional, by a defective product, or by a person who intentionally or accidentally hurt you.
Third, you can bring a lawsuit for libel or slander, also known broadly as defamation. If your reputation or that of your business was damaged arising from a false statement someone made about you to others, you may sue for damages. Libel is defamation by the printed word or some permanent form, while slander is spoken.
Legal requirements for a successful civil lawsuit
Under the law, you or your lawyer must satisfy four requirements to bring a successful civil lawsuit.
- You must prove that the person you are suing owed you a ‘duty of care.’ This means that the person you are suing had some obligation to actively avoid or prevent your injuries or financial loss.
- You must prove that the person knowingly or carelessly violated a standard of care, that would be recognized by the reasonable person.
- You must prove that their failure to take proper care actually caused your injury or loss.
- You must prove that you actually suffered an injury.
For most types of civil lawsuits, regardless of how negligent someone was, you will not recover any money through the courts if you did not suffer an injury or loss as a result of his or her actions or inaction.
Compensation awarded in civil lawsuits
If your lawsuit is successful, the court may order the person you are suing to pay you money as compensation for your loss or injury. Or, a court may order that specific actions be taken, such as fulfilling a contractual obligation. The amount you are awarded will depend on a number of factors including the severity of your injury or loss and the impact the injury has had on your life.
For further information about starting a lawsuit, visit the Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General website.
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