The Legal Process

The information contained in this section is intended as general information to assist in understanding some of the many issues associated with Civil Court and Small Claims Court.  This information is not a substitute for legal advice.

Although similarities exist between all Provinces in Canada, and each respective level of Court, it is important to note that the content contained herewith is based on the legislation and guidelines in the Province of Alberta.  
Provincial Court – Civil Division
The Civil Division of the Provincial Court is designed for ordinary people to present their legal problems without the need to hire a lawyer.  The Civil Division of Provincial Court has its own rules and procedures, but they are less formal and less complicated than the formalities and rules followed in the Court of Queen’s Bench.  Neither the Provincial Court Act nor the regulations prescribe for specific practice or procedures as thoroughly as those found in the Court of Queen’s Bench; however the Court can, and does, apply and modify the Alberta Rules of Court to ensure an expeditious and inexpensive resolution of matters before the court.  Parties whom fail to understand and recognize this do so at their own peril. This level of Court often appears deceptively simple as it is designed for ordinary people.  However, the ‘Burden of Proof’ that rests on all parties; the Rules of Court; and the Legislation that determine whether a Claim, Dispute Note, and/or Counterclaim succeed or fail remains uncompromised and requires strict adherence, compliance and understanding. It is important to be aware that many parties employ the services of a lawyer or agent.  Proceeding with legal action in absence of either of the aforementioned has inherent risks.  
The maximum amount that you can sue for in the Civil Division of the Provincial Court is $25,000.00.  If your claim exceeds that amount you can abandon any exceeding portion, or in certain situations you may be able to file more than one Civil Claim.  If the amount you are claiming exceeds $25,000.00 and you do not want to abandon any exceeding portion you will have to take your action to the Court of Queen’s Bench. You can commence your action in any Provincial Court in Alberta but the matter may be transferred to a different location depending on where the claim arose and where the parties to the action reside.  
What you can sue for in the Civil Division of Provincial Court?
Debt up to $25,000.00;
Damages up to $25,000.00;
A combination of Debt and Damages up to $25,000.00.  
What you cannot sue for in the Civil Division of Provincial Court
matters involving ownership of land;
matters involving wills;
matters involving malicious prosecution;
matters involving false imprisonment;
matters involving defamation (libel and slander);
matters involving governments.
Limitations of Civil Division
In many cases, you cannot sue after a certain period of time has gone by.  This period of time is referred to as the ‘limitation period’.  The time limit depends on the reason for suing.

For general debt problems, such as contracts, loans, damage deposits and rent you must sue within two years from the time the debt became payable.  An exception to this rule exists: if there has been an acknowledgement of the debt.  The two most common forms of acknowledgement are in the form of writing, and in the form of a payment. 

If you are suing for damages or injuries caused to yourself or your property (for example, assault, car accident, etc.), you must sue within two years of the damages or injury.  If you wish to sue your own insurance company for failure to pay you as a result of an accident, you must do so within one year.

Certain other entities such as hospitals and municipalities may have restricted time limits.  
Cost of suing
Suing will cost you time and money.  There are filing fees, witness fees, and you cannot sue for lost wages while attending the hearing.  It is important to note that there are limitations to the amount of costs that the Court will award to the succeeding party regardless of the costs incurred. 

For most people the most substantial cost incurred is the one cost that is rarely compensated; that is the cost of your time.  
Summary of legal steps
You have to know who you are suing.  You must know the difference between suing an individual and suing a business.  If it is a business, there are two types of businesses – incorporated and unincorporated.  You must know the proper entity and have the correct spelling.

A Civil Claim must be prepared and subsequently filed at Provincial Court.  The claim must be properly filled out with the necessary detail.  Often a corporate search and/or searches from the registry will be necessary to complete the claim properly.

The Civil Claim must then be served with a Dispute Note pursuant to the Rules of Court upon the proper party, at the proper address for service.  An Affidavit of Service must then be completed.

If the Defendant does not file a Dispute Note you may be eligible for Default Judgment

If the Defendant files a Dispute Note in the prescribed response time the matter will often be scheduled for Mediation or a Pre-Trial Conference prior to being scheduled for Trial.

The aforementioned steps are a very broad summary.  There are many procedural matters and/or Applications that may be necessary throughout the legal process. 

The above-captioned information is partially based on literature and resources provided by the Alberta Provincial Court website and other sources made available to the public domain.