Yesterday I appeared for a settlement conference in the Peel Region small claims court. While ultimately my matter was adjourned to November, I did get a newfound glimpse into the proverbial “people’s court”. Recently, the maximum allowable claim in small claims court was raised to $25,000. The reality of this is that small claims courts are now seeing more complex litigation matters in addition to very small civil disputes.
For many parties, filing their action in small claims court just makes more sense than a civil claim in the Superior Court of Justice (small claims court is still a branch of the SCJ though). The process is considerably more simplified, forms are easier to fill out, cost awards are not nearly as high, and the process can move along much quicker (no doubt small claims court may appear to move along slowly, a matter could reach trial within a year of the filing of the claim which is a rarity in other civil matters). The higher small claims court maximum makes justice much more accessible since the costs, even with a lawyer, of a small claims court matter will in most cases be considerably less than litigating the matter outside of small claims court. In yesterday’s case, although we would have liked to have filed a claim for an amount greater than the $25,000 small claims court maximum, my client and I together decided the benefits of litigating the matter in small claims court far exceeded the potential for a higher judgment or settlement.
In many cases, especially before the maximum was raised, it does not make financial sense to retain the services of a lawyer for a small claims court matter. For many the potential payout does not make it worthwhile to pay legal fees, especially since any cost award would not come close to covering legal costs. This is sometimes frustrating to potential clients who call me with a small claims court matter. These potential clients often have what appear to be very worthwhile claims and would very much like to retain a lawyer for assistance, however I must be upfront that they may end up paying me much more money than they could potentially recover.
With higher claims comes a greater willingness for litigants to invest in legal fees in hopes of being successful in their claim. The result is that we are now seeing many more lawyers in small claims court. For example, in the case I appeared on yesterday, both parties’ were represented by lawyers. Various lawyers, myself included, are now looking to target small claims court litigants as a new source of potential business that was not around in the past.
For more information on my small claims court practice, click here.