Quebec small claims court hears matters relating to unpaid debts, personal injury, and contractual or extra-contractual obligations. Small claims court does not hear matters pertaining to child or spousal support, slander, class action suits, amongst other more complicated matters.
Increase your chances of success in small claims court
Small Claims Court in Quebec does not allow representation by lawyers at trial, which is why taking the proper steps at the outset of a case is essential. Legal Logik can help you draft your demand letter, engage in negotiations, and prepare court documents like a lawyer.
Do I need a lawyer to go to small claims court?
Except under strict conditions, legal representation is not allowed in Quebec small claims courts, meaning a lawyer cannot accompany you in the courtroom, nor defend your case before the judge. However, you can seek the help of a lawyer to help you prepare your case and increase your chances of a ruling in your favour.
At your small claims court hearing, you’ve got to present a solid case to the judge, provide the right proof and be able to answer tough questions. Without legal training this can be challenging. Errors can be made and a case can be lost on account of a simple technicality. When thousands of dollars are at stake, the right legal is well worth the investment.
When going to Small Claims Court, here are the ways a lawyer can help you:
- Prepare your case
- Ensure it’s valid in fact and in law
- Draft the proceedings you’ll file in court so they make a good first impression.
- Prepare you to speak to the judge in a convincing manner
- Guide you in selecting and preparing evidence that will reinforce your position.
The maximum amount you can sue for in Quebec small claims court is $15,000, not including interest (increased from $7,000 as of January, 2015).
On average, it can take anywhere from six months to over a year for a small claims case to be heard before a judge, the average delay being nine months. Depending on the jurisdiction of Quebec, the wait may be longer or shorter, depending on the delays of that particular courthouse. Once a court date is set, you will receive a notification in the mail from the court clerk of the courthouse at which your action is filed.
In any small claims case, there are two things you must prove to the judge:
- Liability: Who’s at fault? If you are the plaintiff (meaning you are suing the other party), you must convince the judge that the defendant (meaning you are being sued), is at fault or responsible for the damages you’ve suffered. If you are the defendant, you must prove that you are not at fault.
- Compensation: How much should they pay to make it right? If you are the plaintiff, you must justify how much the other party must pay to compensate you for losses or damages. If you are the defendant, you must demonstrate that the lawsuit is unfounded or that the amount sought by the plaintiff is not owed or at least excessive. Legally you must prove the Fault (of defendant), Prejudice (or damage caused) and link between both, and it’s important to provide the right evidence and call credible witnesses to support your case.
To prove your case to the judge, it’s critical to have the right evidence that demonstrates that your argument is valid in fact and in law. Make sure to collect any contracts, bills of sale or invoices, emails or text messages, photographs, videos or other documents or recordings that support your case and include them as exhibits when you file your claim at the courthouse.
Note that not all evidence is allowed. Evidence gathered in violation of someone’s rights (from spying for example) may not be permissible in court. Having your evidence reviewed by a lawyer can help ensure it won’t be dismissed by the judge because it violates a law, does not meet the procedural standards of the court, or due to a simple technicality. Refer to the question, What do I need to prove to the judge? for the two types of evidence you’ll need.
In addition to compelling evidence that supports your claim, testimony from credible witnesses can help convince the judge that you’re right. In small claims court, you have the right to call witnesses, such as friends, family or business associates who have first-hand information regarding the events of the case. They will be allowed to share what they did, saw or heard, but cannot share opinions or information about events they didn’t themselves observe first-hand. Both parties also have the right to call expert witnesses who can present technical information related to their field of expertise and are permitted to share their professional opinion with the court about the matter in debate. An expert witness must have the required training and experience to be recognized as an expert by the court.
Be prepared for the judge to question your expert witness regarding their qualifications. In small claims court, you must prove liability and damages (see the question What do I need to prove in court?) Witnesses can help you achieve one or both of these aims. For certain types of claims, witness testimony is not a permissible form of proof. When preparing your case, a lawyer can tell you if can call witnesses and make recommendations on which witnesses to call.
If someone sues you in small claims court, you have three possible courses of action:
- Pay the claim
- Settle out of court
- Contest the action
If you feel the claim brought against you is exaggerated or unfounded, contesting is the next step. If you have a claim to make against the person suing you, you can also countersue them. You will need to prove that they are liable for certain damages, losses or injury you’ve experienced and justify the compensation you believe you are entitled to claim
A defendant has 20 days to respond to the notification received from court. If this is not done before the deadline you may be in default to respond to the lawsuit and the court may render a decision in your absence without hearing what you have to say. You will then be required by law to respect the court’s decision.
If the judge rules in your favour, it doesn’t mean you’ll walk out of court with a cheque in your hand. Firstly, judges don’t always render their decision on the bench, often taking the case under deliberation. In many cases, additional measures are required to collect the amount awarded to you and a qualified lawyer can help you to execute your judgment.