How to start a lawsuit

Region: Ontario Answer # 4466

Although civil lawsuits vary from case to case, most follow a similar basic procedure. The complexity of the procedures that need to be followed and where your case will be heard, will depend largely on the amount of your claim.

Suing for $35,000 or less: Small Claims Court

If you are claiming an amount of $35,000 or less, you can proceed with your claim in Small Claims Court. The benefits of using Small Claims Court are the low costs of filing and serving documents and that you can proceed relatively easily and quickly without having to be represented by a lawyer. However, you may want to consult a lawyer to ensure that you proceed in a timely fashion, that your documents are completed properly and that you have covered all of your legal points.

Suing for between $35,000 and $100,000: Simplified Procedure Rule

If you are claiming an amount between $35,000 and $100,000, you can follow the “Simplified Procedure Rule” in the Superior Court of Justice. However, if using the Simplified Procedure, your claim must be for one or more of the following: money, real property (e.g. land), and personal property. In some cases, even if your claim is for more than $100,000, you may still be able to use the Simplified Procedure process, unless the Defendant objects.

By reducing a number of time-consuming and expensive steps, such as pre-trial discoveries, this procedure is both less expensive and faster than a regular trial under regular procedures. Although the process is simplified, it is still too complicated for most people, and you will likely need the assistance of a lawyer.

Suing for $100,000 or more

If you are suing for more than $100,000, or the nature of your claim is outside the scope of the Simplified Procedure, then your claim should be filed in the Superior Court of Justice under the ordinary rules. If you are suing for over $100,000, the procedures and legal requirements of your case are more complicated and you will, therefore, require the assistance of a lawyer.

General steps involved in a lawsuit

A lawsuit, whether in Small Claims Court or in the Superior Court of Justice, will involve certain specific steps including:

  • Contacting a lawyer for legal advice or assistance
  • Writing and filing a Statement of Claim (called a Plaintiff’s Claim in Small Claims Court)
  • Waiting for the other party to write and file a Statement of Defence (called a Defence in Small Claims Court)

You may also have to participate in mandatory mediation, or attend an examination for discovery or for pre-trial motions. In most cases, lawsuits are settled before the formal trial begins.

In deciding whether to sue someone, you should be aware that the person you are suing is able to make a counterclaim in your proceeding, asserting that in fact you caused harm or loss. If the counterclaim is successful, you could end up not only losing your claim, but also paying the defendant’s claim and their court costs. It is important to determine whether your claim is valid before you start a lawsuit. Otherwise, you could end up with a costly judgment against you.

A civil lawsuit often involves a number of complicated steps and procedures. Although in some cases it may be possible to proceed without a lawyer, it is a good idea to seek legal advice before getting started.

More information about starting a lawsuit in Ontario can also be found from the Ministry of the Attorney General.


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