Basic Steps in a Lawsuit in British Columbia
All civil actions in British Columbia are heard by The Supreme Court of British Columbia. Matters involving claims of $25,000 or less are heard in Small Claims Court (a division of the Provincial Court of British Columbia).
The basic steps in a lawsuit are :
1. Gathering the Facts
Before starting a lawsuit it is necessary to gather all of the available facts from the client and also review all of the client’s relevant documents. It is preferable, where possible, for the client to provide their lawyer with a written chronology of the facts. If the
defendant(s) is a company, it will be necessary to conduct corporate searches to determine the defendant’s proper legal name.
2. Filing the Lawsuit
The action is started by filing a Writ of Summons and a Statement of Claim at the court registry. For all actions filed in the Supreme Court there is a filing fee of $208.00.
3. Serving the Defendant
Once the action is served, the Plaintiff has one year to serve the Defendant(s) (this time period can be extended if the Plaintiff has difficulty in serving the Defendant(s)). A defendant who is an individual must be served personally. Corporate defendants can be served at their registered office (often their lawyer’s office) or by personally serving a director or officer of the defendant.
Once the defendant is served they have 7 days from the date of service to file a document called an Appearance. If the defendant does not reside in BC then they have a longer time to file an Appearance (21 days in the case of a person residing anywhere within Canada other than BC, 28 days in the case of a person residing in the USA and 42 days in the case of a person residing anywhere else).
After the Defendant files an Appearance they must file and serve the Plaintiff with a Statement of Defence within 14 days after the time expires for filing the Appearance.
4. Production of Documents
The Rules of Court in BC provide that each party must produce all of their documents to the other side. The Plaintiff will prepare a List of Documents which lists all documents which are relevant to the lawsuit and then provide this list to the Defendant who must do the same.
5. Examinations for Discovery
Examinations for discovery is a process whereby each party is entitled to ask questions of the other party under oath before a court reporter. The court reporter will prepare a written transcript of the examination which can be used at trial. This process helps each side gather the facts about the case and assess the strengths and weaknesses of their positions.
6. Interim Applications
It is not uncommon in most lawsuits for one party to have to go to court before trial to deal with certain pre-trial issues, such as the production of certain documents or production of a person for discovery.
There are two types of trials: a conventional trial and a summary trial.
A conventional trial, which most people are familiar with, involves calling witnesses who give evidence under oath before a judge. The Plaintiff is responsible for paying the Hearing Room Fees to the Province. Depending on the length of the trial these fees can be significant ($312 each day for the first 5 days, $416 each day for the next 5 days and $624 for each day over 10 days).
A summary trial is done by way of affidavit evidence before a judge in chambers. It is generally quicker and cheaper than a conventional trial. Not all cases are suited for a summary trial, particularly cases which involve issues of credibility. Cases which are suited for summary trial are typically ones where the facts are relatively simple and straight forward (ie a claim on a promissory note) although even complex cases can sometimes be heard by way of a summary trial.
The time a lawsuit will take is difficult to predict. It depends on many factors such as the nature and complexity of the case, the availability of both parties' lawyers, court schedules, how many witnesses there are, how many documents are involved and how long the trial will be.
Generally speaking it will take somewhere between one to two years for a case to go to trial. For cases set for one to three days it can sometimes take shorter than this.
9. Fast Track Litigation
For lawsuits where the trial can be completed in 2 days or less, there is a fast track litigation rule whose objective is to provide a speedier and less expensive method of taking a case to trial. Under this rule, the parties must deliver their list of documents by a certain time and examinations for discovery are limited to 2 hours. The rule allows a party to get a trial date within 4 months after the date a party elects to proceed under this rule.