A small claims case shouldn’t be taken lightly. Here are 10 questions to consider before making a claim. The answers might save you time and money. They might even help you settle your case without going to court.
1. Does your claim qualify for small claims court?
To qualify for small claims court, you must be claiming $15,000 or less. However, some types of claims can’t be heard in small claims court even if they’re under this limit (for example, a claim concerning a lease for an apartment).
Learn more: “Small Claims Court: Accessible to Everyone”
2. How much will it cost?
It will cost you between $100 and $300 to file your claim, depending on the amount you’re claiming. The person you’re suing (the defendant) must pay similar costs if they decide to file a defence. The person who loses the case usually has to reimburse the other person for their costs. There might be some additional fees, depending on the nature of your case (for example, if you hire an expert such as a building inspector, to testify).
3. How long will it take until a judge hears your case?
On average it takes between 6 and 15 months from the time you file your claim to the day of the trial. You’ll receive a notice by mail about 6 weeks ahead of time indicating the date and time of the trial and the address of the courthouse.
4. Have you tried to reach an agreement with the other party?
You can try to negotiate an agreement with the other party instead of going to court. This option might lead to a quick settlement without having to go to court.
Even after you’ve filed your claim in court, you can still try to reach an agreement with the other party. Mediation can also help you reach an agreement. This service is free if you have a case at the small claims court.
Learn more: “Mediation in Small Claims Court” (video)
5. Have you sent a demand letter?
You can send a demand letter to the other party before submitting your claim. The demand letter serves to explain the problem, specify the amount of money you are claiming, and give the other party a reasonable amount of time to pay (usually 10 days). In some situations, you’re required to send a demand letter before you can take someone to court.
Learn more: “Demand Letters: The Basics”
6. Do you have the evidence and documents you need?
You need evidence to convince the judge that you are right. If you don’t have evidence, the judge might dismiss your claim. Written evidence generally carries the most weight (for example, a written contract, an invoice, an email, etc.). When it comes to evidence, quality is more important than quantity. You’re better off with a few items of evidence that are very convincing rather than a lot of evidence that is not very convincing.
Learn more: “Evidence in Small Claims Court: Tips for Preparing Your Case” (video)
7. Are you suing a company?
If you’re suing a company, you must use its official name, which might be different from the name you’re familiar with. To make sure you use the right name, you can look it up for free in the “Registre des entreprises du Québec” (enterprise register). Click on “Find an enterprise” and enter the company’s name in the search bar.
Learn more: “Identifying Who to Sue”
What if the company is a merchant?
If the company is a merchant, you can try to reach an agreement using the PARLe platform available free of charge on the website of the Office de la protection du consommateur (consumer protection office).
8. Is it too late to file a claim?
You usually have three years to file a claim in small claims court. This time limit is called “prescription.” It’s the amount of time you have to file a claim before your right to sue expires. The time limit begins when you learn about the elements supporting your claim. There are exceptions to the three-year time limit. For example, the time limit can be shorter in certain situations.
Learn more: “Prescription: Legal Deadlines”
9. Will you ever get your money?
Even if the judge rules in your favour, you might have trouble actually receiving your money if the other party doesn’t have the means to pay. Therefore, before you file a claim in small claims court you should consider whether the other party will be able to pay. If you don’t know the other party’s financial situation, you can hire a tracing agency to obtain information on this, and find out whether they can pay the amount you’re claiming.
10. What are your chances of success?
You can consult a lawyer to help evaluate your chances of success before filing a claim. This will save you time and money if your claim isn’t likely to succeed. A lawyer can also help you prepare your case but isn’t allowed to represent you in small claims court.
Many law firms offer affordable packages for small claims cases. You can do an online search to find one that suits you.