Basic Steps in a Lawsuit in British Columbia
Updated: May 29, 2020
All civil lawsuits involving amounts greater than $35,000 in British Columbia are heard by the Supreme Court of British Columbia. Matters involving claims of $5,001 to $35,000 are heard in Small Claims Court (a division of the Provincial Court of British Columbia) and matters involving $5,000 or less are heard by the British Columbia Civil Resolution Tribunal.
Overview of Civil Action
Although civil lawsuits will vary from case to case, most lawsuits will follow a similar basic procedure. The basic steps in a lawsuit are the following:
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.
Filing the Lawsuit A lawsuit is generally started by filing a Notice of Civil Claim or a Statement of Claim at the applicable court registry.
Serving the Defendant Once the action is filed, 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 corporation. Once the defendant is served they have 21 days from the date of service to file a response (14 days in Small Claims Court). If the defendant does not reside in Canada then they have a longer time to file a response (35 days in the case of a person residing in the USA and 49 days in the case of a person residing anywhere else).
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.
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.
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.
Trial 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. Trials will vary greatly in length depending on the complexity of the case. A summary trial is done by way of affidavit evidence only 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.
Timeframe The amount of 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 may take somewhere between one and a half 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.
Fast Track Litigation For lawsuits where the trial can be completed in two days or less, there is a fast track litigation rule, the objective of which 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 two hours. The rule allows a party to get a trial date within 4 months after the date that party elects to proceed under this rule.
If you are considering starting a lawsuit in BC, please feel free to contact us. Our team of lawyers would be happy to help you navigate your matter.
Call us at (604) 736 9791, or email us and we would be happy to assist.
Disclaimer: This article is not intended to serve as, or should be construed as legal advice, and is only to provide general information. No portion or use of this article will establish a lawyer-client relationship with the author or any related party. Should you require legal advice for your particular situation, please get in touch with us.