The Ontario Superior Court of Justice has jurisdiction over most types of civil claims governed by provincial legislation. If you have a civil claim for the sum of $35,000.00 or less, or for the return of personal property that has a value of $35,000.00 or less, your lawsuit must be started in Small Claims Court. For all other civil matters in the Superior Court of Justice, the stages of a lawsuit are as follows:
- File a Statement of Claim with the court. You may file a claim in any location of the Superior Court of Justice, except for claims involving a mortgage, which generally must be filed in the region where the subject property is located.
A civil lawsuit must generally be started within two years of discovering the claim. However, there are different time periods that apply depending on the type of claim. If you do not start a lawsuit before the expiry of the applicable period, you will not be entitled to the requested relief.
Note that a lawsuit may also be started by filing a Notice of Application, depending on the nature of the case and the specific relief you’re seeking. Civil applications follow a different procedure than civil actions. Most lawsuits are started by filing a Statement of Claim.
- Serve the Statement of Claim on the defendant(s) personally or by an alternative to personal service. There are specific rules of service depending on who is being sued. If the defendant is an individual, the Statement of Claim may be served by either leaving a copy with the defendant, or if by leaving a copy, in a sealed envelope addressed to the defendant, with someone who appears to be an adult member of the same household and, on the same day or the next day, sending a copy of the Statement of Claim to the defendant by mail at the same residence.
- If the defendant was served in Ontario, the defendant has twenty days to file a Statement of Defence. If the defendant was served in Canada but outside of Ontario, or in the United States, the defendant has forty days to file a Statement of Defence. If the defendant was served elsewhere, the defendant has sixty days to file a Statement of Defence.
- In the discovery stage of a civil action, the parties exchange affidavits of documents, containing all the documents in the party’s possession, power or control that are relevant to the issues in dispute. The parties then hold examinations for discovery, where each party answers questions under oath about the case. Examinations for discovery are held outside of court.
- In Toronto, Windsor and Ottawa, mediation is mandatory for most civil actions. Elsewhere, mediation is optional. Mediation is an opportunity for parties to discuss the issues of a case, confidentially, with an independent third party, with a view to settling the matter. The mediator’s role is to facilitate constructive communication, not impose a decision. There are many advantages to mediation, including saving time and costs on further litigation, and arriving at a mutually-agreeable resolution.
- Set the action down for trial by filing a trial record, which includes copies of the Statement of Claim and Statement of Defence. Once an action is set down for trial, the case advances to the trial scheduling process.
- Attend a pre-trial conference among the parties, their lawyers (if any), and a judge. The main objectives of the pre-trial conference are to attempt to reach a settlement agreement, and to discuss the details of the trial.
- If the matter is still unresolved, the action will proceed to trial. At trial, each party will have an opportunity to present their case by producing evidence through oral testimony and relevant documents, and making legal arguments supporting their position. The successful party is generally entitled to receive some of their legal costs from the unsuccessful party.