You’ve hired a contractor to replace your windows. You’ve put down a deposit. He does the work and you are happy with it — until the first time it rains.
Many of the windows were not sealed properly and are leaking. It’s going to cost you $6,000 to fix the problem. The original contractor won’t return your calls.
You probably have never thought about taking someone to court. It can be an intimidating and confusing place. Where do you start? Will it be worth the hassle and expense of a lawyer for $6,000?
Your claim qualifies for small claims court if it is less than $25,000 in Alberta and British Columbia, $20,000 in Saskatchewan and $10,000 in Manitoba.
Small claims court rules vary from province to province, but all are de-signed around simplifying the procedure for everyone involved.
Step one is writing a demand letter. Write to the contractor demanding payment of the $6,000.
Give them a reasonable deadline and let them know that you will take them to court if they do not pay. You may or may not get a reply.
The next step is to prepare and file a statement of claim at the local court. The claim should outline who you are suing, what happened and what you want. Some provinces require that you attach supporting documents to your statement of claim.
Next, you will serve that on the person you are suing. Again, the rules vary by province, but the point is to make sure that the person knows they are being sued, why and when and where to show up. The court staff can usually assist you, and there is good information on court websites.
When you take the claim to the courthouse, officials will assign you a date for a case management or settlement conference. You must request one in B.C.
You and the defendant will be expected to appear, with your supporting documents, and sit down with a judge to discuss the case.
These conferences are designed to help the parties settle, and most times they do. Anything offered or said in the conference is confidential and cannot be brought up if the case goes to trial.
If the defendant does not show up, you can ask to have judgment taken out against the party you are suing for the full amount of your claim.
If the matter was not settled at the conference, the case goes to trial. Few claims go to trial. You will be expected to bring all of your evidence and any witnesses you may have, if necessary. A judge, who is different from the one at your conference, will make a decision based on the evidence presented.
You do not need a lawyer, but getting some legal help can be beneficial. Many law firms are happy to prepare documents for you but not attend the management conference. They can guide you through the process without the costs associated with them physically attending.
Some people feel more comfortable with a lawyer handling the case all the way through.
However you choose to proceed, know that the system is designed to be accessible and that you have some flexibility with how much assistance you receive.
Brayden Gulka-Tiechko, associate in McDougall Gauley’s office in Moose Jaw, Sask., helped research and draft this article.