Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Small Claims Definition:

A regular court but which has simplified rules of procedure and process to deal with claims of a lesser value.

As Justice Cory of the Ontario Supreme Court wrote in Lachowski v. Federated Mutual Insurance Company:

"The small claims Court was established so that relatively minor disputes could be resolved expeditiously with minimal costs to litigants. The whole philosophy and concept of that Court contemplates the speedy processing of claims at a minimal expense."

Many jurisdictions have established small claims courts which, because of their structures and reliance on deformalized proceedings, allow for expedited hearings and where representation by lawyer is not required or encouraged.

Some typical distinctive characteristics of small claims courts include the ability to serve by regular mail and to seize both a court and an adversary with a dispute at far less cost than in ordinary courts.

small claimsIn addition to the informal procedure, the other distinctive characteristic of a small claims court is that jurisdiction is limited to a prescribed monetary amount. Where a claim exceeds the limit, it must then be resolved in the regular court stream.

Small claims courts do not offer the option of a jury trial. Some types of cvases are usually excluded such as defamation.

Small claims are usually top-heavy with mandatory pre-trial conferences and mediation steps and promise little in the way of disclosure.

To the extent that the practise in British Columbia is indicative of other jurisdictions:

"Practise in the (small claims court) is intended to provide a just, speedy, inexpensive and simple resolution to virtually all types of civil disputes.

"The (small claims court) receives approximately 34% of civil (non-family) litigation proceedings filed....

"The (small claims) is a hybrid court. It must be accessible to non-lawyers, as well as to those disputes requiring the assistance of a lawyer. With the use of plain language forms, information booklets and plain language rules, many non-lawyers are more comfortable coming to the (small claims court)."1


  • Lachowski v. Federated Mutual Insurance Co., 113 D.L.R. (3d) 202 (1980)
  • NOTE 1: Prior, A. and Woods, T., eds., Provincial Court Small Claims Handbook (Vancouver: Continuing Legal Education Society, 2012), pages 1-1 and 1-2

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