The Ministry of the Attorney General recently announced two major reforms to Small Claims and Simplified Procedure as of January 1, 2020.
Small Claims Court¹
- The monetary jurisdiction of the Small Claims Court will increase from $25,000 to $35,000.
- The minimum amount that may be appealed to the Divisional Court will increase from $2,500 to $3,500.
- Litigants who have previously commenced a claim in Superior Court can seek to transfer their case to Small Claims Court if the claim falls within the new threshold.
The government expects the change in monetary jurisdiction will make it faster, easier and more affordable for people to resolve their disputes. However, it’s not clear from the government’s press release whether additional resources will be diverted to the Small Claims Courts to handle a potential increased caseload.
- The monetary jurisdiction for proceeding under Simplified Procedure will increase from $100,000 to $200,000.
- The per-party time limits for conducting examinations for discovery will increase from two hours to three hours.
- Parties will have to schedule a pre-trial conference within 180 days of the action being set down for trial.
- At least 30 days before pre-trial, parties must agree to a proposed trial management plan which contains a number of items including, a list of all witnesses, including experts, and an agreed-upon division of time between parties for all stages of the trial.
- Pre-trial judges will have the power to fix the number of witnesses, other than experts, fix dates for the delivery of witness affidavits and set the date for the trial.
- Actions will be tried by judge only – no jury trials will be permitted.
- Trials will be limited to five days.
- All evidence at trial will be submitted in affidavit form. Parties will have a right to cross-examine the deponents who are adverse in interest. Examinations in chief will no longer be permitted.
- Recovery of costs will be capped at $50,000 and disbursement recovery will be capped at $25,000.
The changes to Simplified Procedure are expansive. The government hopes they will have a significant impact on how personal injury actions in this province are pleaded and litigated. A Plaintiff’s lawyer will have to take a close look at the realistic value of a client’s personal injury claim before issuing a Statement of Claim. Whether to issue under the Simplified Procedure or the ordinary procedure is now a much more important decision.
That’s because most personal injury verdicts in our courts are lower than $200,000. The costs consequences of Rule 76 provide that a plaintiff can be refused costs if she sues under the ordinary procedure, but reasonably ought to have sued under the Simplified Procedure. Sure. Those costs consequences aren’t new. But the increase in jurisdiction from $100,000 to $200,000 makes it more likely that an incorrectly pleaded personal injury case will be caught by the cost rule.
If everything goes according to the government’s plan, the changes should help alleviate congestion in our courts. Fewer personal actions will be commenced under the regular procedure. Fewer jury notices will be filed, and there will be fewer, time-consuming and expensive jury trials in personal injury actions. Some argue that more affordable trials will make trials a more popular dispute resolution option. There will be more opportunity for parties, and their counsel, to take their cases to trial.
But we’ll have to wait and see. The jury is still out. Pun intended.