Small Claims Cases

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What types of dispute can you bring to Small Claims court?

Whether you can bring a case to Small Claims court in the Provincial Court of BC depends on the dollar value of the claim and its subject.

Dollar value
The BC Provincial Court’s Small Claims Court generally deals with cases involving from $5,001 to $35,000.

Claims for up to $5,000 must usually be taken to the online Civil Resolution Tribunal (CRT). In addition, many claims for up to $50,000 arising from motor vehicle accidents must be taken to the CRT. However, Provincial Court may deal with motor vehicle accident cases and cases under $5001 in certain circumstances. In addition, the Provincial Court has specific procedures to deal with Claims up to $5,001 to $10,000 in Vancouver and Richmond.

Aside from cases that must be taken to the CRT, claims for more than $35,000 generally go to the BC Supreme Court. You can make a claim for more than $35,000 in Small Claims Court, but if you do you must abandon the amount over $35,000. A Provincial Court judge cannot award you more than $35,000 plus interest and expenses (although contractual interest may be included in the $35,000 limit). For more on this, see Can I bring a dispute for more than $35,000 to Small Claims Court?

Claims brought to Small Claims Court must involve:

  • debt or damages
  • recovery of personal property or opposing claims to person property
  • performance of agreements about personal property or services.

Small Claims Court does not have the power to deal with:

  • issues related to motor vehicle accidents (with some exceptions)
  • the rights and obligations of strata owners, tenants, and strata corporations (though some orders in this regard may be enforced in Provincial Court)
  • an interest in land
  • personal property security
  • bankruptcies
  • trademarks
  • wills and estates
  • libel and slander
  • malicious prosecution
  • residential tenancy (though Residential Tenancy Branch orders may be enforced in Provincial Court)
  • almost all builders' lien matters, and
  • lawsuits against the federal government.

For cases involving subjects that can’t be brought to Provincial Court, see the websites of the BC Supreme Court, Civil Resolution Tribunal, Residential Tenancies BC, or the Federal Court of Canada.

Default Method of Attendance

See Practice Directions and Notices to the Profession and the Public (including SM CL 02 Default Method of Attendance for Court Appearances Under the Small Claims Rules) and Attending Remotely, where applicable.

Claims up to $5,000 in Provincial Court

Does Provincial Court deal with claims under $5001 in any way?

The Civil Resolution Tribunal Act requires that disputes within the CRT’s authority, called “Tribunal Small Claims”, must go through the CRT process. However, a claim for under $5001 may come to Provincial Court, for example:

When the CRT refuses to resolve the claim
When a party applies to Provincial Court to be exempted from the CRT
For enforcement of CRT orders

When the CRT refuses to resolve a claim
The CRT can refuse to resolve a claim within its jurisdiction for several reasons, including that the claim:

  • is too complex or otherwise impractical for the CRT to manage or resolve
  • doesn’t disclose a reasonable claim or is an abuse of process
  • has been resolved through a legally binding process or would be more appropriate for another legally binding dispute resolution process
  • involves a constitutional question or the application of the Human Rights Code
  • when the CRT is satisfied that it has been established, on the basis of satisfactory evidence, that the claim or the dispute is beyond the jurisdiction of the tribunal

section 11(1) CRT Act

When a party applies to Provincial Court to be exempted from the CRT
You may apply to Provincial Court for exemption from the CRT process and a judge may order the CRT not to adjudicate a claim if:

  • the CRT doesn’t have jurisdiction (legal authority), or
  • it is not in the interests of justice and fairness for the CRT to facilitate or adjudicate the claim.

You must file an application for exemption in Provincial Court within 14 days after a response is made in the CRT. The CRT Act sets out factors a judge may consider.

section 16 CRT Act, Small Claims Rule 16.1

Enforcement of CRT orders
Both negotiated consent orders and final decisions of the CRT can be filed in the Provincial Court for enforcement. Once filed, a CRT order has the same force as a Provincial Court judgment, and can be enforced using the same procedures. The Court enforces Residential Tenancy Branch orders in a similar way.

section 58.1 CRT Act

Claims from $5,001 to $10,000 in Vancouver & Richmond

In Small Claims Court in Vancouver and Richmond Provincial Courthouses, Justice of the Peace Adjudicators may hold one-hour simplified trials for cases with a money value of $5,001 to $10,000.

In a simplified trial you or your lawyer will be asked to state the facts, file any documents you rely on, and respond to the other party. The Justice of the Peace Adjudicator may ask you questions, ask you to swear to the truth of your statement, permit witnesses, and allow you or your lawyer to ask the other party questions. They will provide their decision immediately or within not more than 30 days.

In all other Provincial Court locations, claims for $5001 to $10,000 are dealt with in the same way as claims for up to $35,000.

All other Claims up to $35,000

Although claims for injuries arising from motor vehicle accidents are now usually dealt with in the Civil Resolution Tribunal, the BC Provincial Court generally deals with other civil claims up to $35,000. You can make a claim for more than that in our Small Claims court, but if you do you must abandon the amount over $35,000. A Provincial Court judge cannot award you more than $35,000 plus interest and expenses (although contractual interest may be included in the $35,000 limit).

These cases may be called “Small Claims” but we know how important they are to the people involved, and the sums of money in dispute are often not small.

Small Claims Court procedures are set out in the Small Claims Rules. They are designed to be simple so people can feel comfortable coming to court without a lawyer if they don’t have one.

Getting help
However, consulting a lawyer can be very helpful. Some lawyers now provide “unbundled” services, helping you develop a plan to prepare and present your case and doing only the tasks you hire them for. At a minimum, a lawyer can tell you what you need to prove to establish your claim or defence, and advise you on the evidence you’ll need. For ways to get legal advice or find a lawyer see Getting a lawyer or legal advice.

If you do not have a lawyer you may find it helpful to bring a trusted friend or family member with you to provide emotional support, take notes, and organize documents at your Small Claims trial. The Provincial Court has adopted Support Person Guidelines that explain when you are permitted to have a support person help you, and what they can do.

Settlement and Trial Conferences
You generally begin your Provincial Court Small Claims appearances by attending a settlement conference with a judge. If you can settle your dispute there you need not return to court. If you are not able to settle, you may be required to attend a trial conference to make sure everyone is prepared for trial.

After that, you will be given a date for a trial, where generally a different judge will hear you and the other party and any relevant witnesses you bring to court, and make a decision based on the evidence presented in the trial.

After considering the evidence and the law, the trial judge may dismiss a claim that has not been proven, or make a payment order, or other type of order.

Payment schedule and enforcement
If a person ordered to pay cannot do so immediately, the judge may order them to make payments on 'payment schedule’. If no payment schedule is ordered at the end of the trial, either party may ask for a ‘payment hearing’ to get a payment schedule.

If the person ordered to pay does not obey a payment schedule, the other party may request a ‘default hearing’.

For more information see:
Resources for Small Claims Cases

This website provides general information only and should not be used as legal advice.

Updated November, 2022