If you work for money, sell stuff for money, or rent anything in exchange for money, you probably already know something about the Small Claims Court and, more than likely, have had some experience there yourself.
Small Claims Court deals with disputes with a monetary value of up to $25,000. It’s where you go to collect on unpaid accounts, default leases, and compensation for that three-foot hole in the wall left by your last tenant. An action is brought by filing a Plaintiff’s Claim in the court closest to the location of the defendant or where the event giving rise to the claim occurred. The defendant is given a period of time to defend the claim by giving its side of the story and to sue for any money or damages it feels it’s owed from the Plaintiff. The Small Claims Court process then begins.
Claims do not go directly to trial. The first stage in the Small Claims Court process is the Settlement Conference, which is scheduled within 90 days of the date the defence is filed. A Settlement Conference is a conversation between the plaintiff and the defendant about the issues to figure out if an agreement can be reached that would dispose of the claim. Basically, the Court shuts the parties together in a room to examine the possibility of resolving the claim without having to go to trial. A Deputy Judge mediates the discussion and helps the parties focus in on the key issues at hand.
Parties are encouraged to come to court with their “bottom line”, the minimum value they would accept to dismiss the claim. There is something to be said for the satisfaction of achieving justice when you’ve been wronged. The problem is, justice often comes at a cost. Trials in busy courtrooms are scheduled months and months ahead of time. Legal fees can be anticipated (especially when charged on a flat fee basis, as does our firm). Unfortunately, the costs of taking time off work, travelling to and from court, and–as is often the case–waiting outside a courtroom all day for your matter to be called, are usually not.
It is for this reason that we encourage our clients to resolve their actions at the Settlement Conference. We work with our clients to generate strategies for early resolution of their actions that work to their best interests. Accounting, of course, for the real cost of going to trial.
After all, at the end of the day, it is all about money.
Ann A. Hatsios, Junior Litigation Associate,