Many clients have smaller monetary disputes that initially may not seem worth the effort to enter into or continue with litigation. The practical realities are that such disputes soon eat up the legal budget. If it’s cheaper to pay than fight, you might as well pay or let it go. Is there an alternative?
Ontario is set to increase the maximum claim amounts for two litigation streams aimed at reducing the cost and time spent on litigating claims of lesser value: small claims court and simplified procedure matters.
Coming Increase in Dispute Limit for Small Claims Court
In an effort to keep costs down, and improve efficiency, the limits of jurisdiction for this court will rise to $35,000.00 from $25,000.00 this January 1st, 2020. Costs are limited to 15% of the amount in dispute so the top end of any liability to pay costs is just over $5,000.00.
This will allow more claimants to take advantage of this litigation option, which keeps costs contained and can be navigated much more quickly than traditional litigation.
Similar Change for Simplified Procedure Disputes
Simplified procedure is a litigation process codified under Rule 76 of the Rules of Civil Procedure, a process aimed at streamlining litigation with respect to claims relating to money, real property and contracts. Currently, the limit for claims to go through this process is $100,000, but that limit will soon be doubled to $200,000 in an effort to entice more people to make use of it. With Ontario courts currently backlogged, the hope is that more people will choose to litigate via this more streamlined method.
Simplified procedure trials are generally limited to five days in length. Any oral discovery by any party is to be longer than three hours. The goal is to move these actions forward quickly. The action must be set down for trial within 180 days of the filing of the last Statement of Defence or Notice of Intent to Defend. Within the next 180 days, the pre-trial conference is to be scheduled.
A further significant amendment is the elimination of jury trials for Rule 76 actions unless the jury notice was served before the end of this year. Also, for trials where the cause of action is for slander, libel, malicious arrest, malicious prosecution, and false imprisonment a jury notice can be filed. Where the exception applies, the action will proceed as an ordinary action and not as a Rule 76 matter. If the jury notice is eventually struck, then the action will return to and proceed under Rule 76.
Maybe the most critical step comes next. The parties must, at least 30 days before the scheduled pre-trial conference, agree on a trial management plan that contains a list of all witnesses (including experts) and the allotment of time for each witness. Remember the complete trial must fit within the 5-day limit. They must also file their Affidavit of Documents and the documents therein listed. This must include their expert reports. Finally, the parties must also file a three-page statement of the issues in the action and their respective positions on each issue. These planning and organizational steps are clearly meant to make such a trial more efficient and organized, hence at a smaller legal cost.
During the pre-trial conference, the judge or master may limit the number of witnesses to be called but this does not apply to any experts. They may also fix dates for the production of witness affidavits, fix the trial date, and alter the trial management plan.
Costs are also limited by the new Rule 76. Subject to other statutory rules, and the court’s discretion, no party may recover costs exceeding $50,000 or disbursements exceeding $25,000, exclusive of HST.
At Milosevic Fiske LLP, our team of Toronto corporate commercial lawyers regularly represent clients in litigation matters ranging from straightforward contract and partnership disputes to complex multi-party commercial claims including dealing with claims of loss from real estate transactions. Over the years, our team of exceptional litigators has seen it all and has successfully fought for our clients’ rights. Our impressive track record speaks for itself. Call us at 416-916-1387 or contact us online to schedule a consultation.