How to win in Small Claims Court
Q. What should one focus on. In other words is their a guide to how to win in Small Claims Court?
“How to win in Small Claims Court” is probably a often-Googled phrase for those seeking the insights necessary to win their case. While any number of factors can contribute to success in Ontario Small Claims Court, in my experience, it comes down to the following 3 factors (or, the “Wellness Test” as I call it), though of course nobody can ever guarantee that you will win your case:
Preparing well can be crucial in learning how to win in small claims court. At every step of the way, you must be prepared to meet each challenge head on. This begins at the outset from when you are even contemplating a Small Claims Court lawsuit. For instance, have you thought about who the appropriate Defendant is? This may sound obvious but not when you are dealing with a company and using the appropriate legal name can be tricky for the uninformed. One should never rush into a Small Claims Court claim. Just as you would prepare for any business meeting, take your time and ensure to think things through before filing your lawsuit.
Moreover, after each stage of court, you must re-assess your case to ensure things are progressing in the appropriate manner. For example, once you serve your claim and receive a Defence, you may have to consider amending your claim to add a party. Or, perhaps you should reply to allegations made by the Defendant. Maybe there is a Defendant’s Claim (counter-claim) you should be defending. Prior to trial you may have to reconsider which witnesses you want. Perhaps you need additional documents as evidence to prove your case.
Your Small Claims Court lawsuit is an ongoing process that requires maintenance. The best way to stay prepared at each step of the way is by consulting with an experienced legal professional who can help you strategize and discuss your needs.
Writing well is another important facet of how to win in small claims court. I cannot stress enough how crucial it is to have a properly drafted Plaintiff’s Claim. I am always amazed that people quickly scribble in a brief description on the small claims form and submit it to the court. This is the first document read by the judge and forms his/her impression of your case. The same people who will take a week to choose which washing machine to buy will take 5 minutes to fill out a form in which they’re claiming $25,000! Even if you are a strong writer, legal writing is a whole other creature. To take one example why, often a limitation issue arises when suing, as one generally has until the second anniversary of discovery of a claim to commence the lawsuit. If you are not careful with the wording, a judge can find your claim to be statute-barred by the limitation period (a full discussion of limitation periods is beyond the scope of this article).
I recommend that you get professional legal assistance to ensure your claim accurately portrays what you want to get across to the judge.
Finally, preparing well is an important piece of the “how to win in small claims court” puzzle. For many, the thought of public speaking can be terrified, particularly in an intimidating court room. As Jerry Seinfeld says in his funny book, SeinLanguage, “Death is only the second biggest fear, number 2 to public speaking. This means that the one giving the eulogy at the funeral would rather be in the casket!”
Others are fine with speaking in court but do not understand the art of legal speaking which is very different than giving the average speech. For instance, many claims depend on recent case law from the courts that can impact the judge’s decision. Most people are untrained in understanding the nuances of legal case decisions and would not be able to explain a case to a judge or distinguish the opposing party’s case law. For this reason, I always recommend that you should have a capable legal representative in court to properly address the court and package your lawsuit as effectively as possible.
Please note that despite the above 3 factors, sometimes you simply get a judge who does not like your case no matter what you do. This is beyond your control. But what is within your control is sticking to the ‘Wellness Test”, and by ensuring to prepare, write and present your case well, you are in that much of a better position to succeed in Ontario Small Claims Court.
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