This site was created by the Legal Information Society of Nova Scotia. It contains information intended to assist people with Nova Scotia Small Claims Court cases.
Is Small Claims Court Right for You?
When deciding if you should make a claim in the Small Claims Court, there are a few important things to think about:
What Small Claims Court Does and Does Not Deal With
The Small Claims Court will hear claims worth up to $25,000 (not including interest and costs). Claims may be for payment of money and/or the return of goods. A decision in small claims court can be appealed to the Supreme Court.
Keep in mind that Small Claims Court doesnot deal with:
- False imprisonment
- Malicious prosecution
- Ownership of land
- Disagreements over wills
- Claims against the provincial government
- Claims against the federal government
For more information on whether Small Claims Court will hear your claim, you can contact the Legal Information Line at 1-800-665-9779.
Have you Considered Mediation?
Going to court may not be the most effective way to get the results you want.
If you think that it would be possible to settle your dispute by coming to an agreement with the other party then mediation may be a good alternative.
Mediation can be faster than a court process, and it is also much more private. You should also consider if you would like to maintain a healthy relationship with the other parties. Sometimes court can make things harder on everyone. Mediation will give everyone the chance to say what they are thinking and try to work something out between them in a calm setting.
You can find more information on mediation as well as how to get a mediator here.
Is it Worth Making a Claim?
The question “Is it worth making a claim” may sound strange, but it is a very serious and important one. It takes time, effort and money to make a successful claim. You have to think about what you might get out of the claim and decide whether that is worth what you are going to have to put in. Here are a few things to consider:
Have you thought about fees and costs? You have to pay a fee to make a claim at Small Claims Court. Information on court fees can be found here. Also, it's important to know that if you lose at the hearing then you will likely have to pay costs. That means you will be expected to pay for the other party's legal fees.
Can you back up your claim? Although Small Claims Court is less formal than other courts your case will still be decided based on evidence. If you do not have some sort of evidence such as bills, contracts, letters, emails, photos or eye witnesses then it will be difficult to prove your case.
Where is the other party? If you are unsure where the other person is then it is going to be very hard to properly serve them or to collect money from them or to recover your property. If you don't know where the other person is then someone will have to find the person before effective legal action can be taken against them.
Will you be able to collect? Winning your case is often just one step toward getting what you want. Have a look at After Judgment video to learn about the collection process. The adjudicator may make an order in your favour, but you still have to have that order enforced and enforcement can be difficult. For example, if the other person is unemployed or even self-employed, it can be hard to collect right away, if at all. You may end up in a position where you have spent money to ensure you succeed in your claim, but are unable to collect in a reasonable time.
It is up to you whether or not to start a claim. A lawyer can give you valuable advice regarding the strength or weakness of your claim, which can be very helpful in making your decision. If you are unable to find a lawyer to advise you then you can contact the Lawyer Referral Service (1-800-665-9779) and it may be possible to obtain a 30 minute consultation for a discounted fee of $20.00 +tax.
You can also find more information about legal help and the legal system here.
After deciding if Small Claims Court is right for you, then you will need to understand the process of starting a claim.
How to Start a Claim
Starting a claim in Small Claims Court is as easy as 1… 2… 3…. To get started, have a look at this short video in LISNS video series “Self-Advocacy 101- Claim"
Because every claim is different it is a good idea to go outside the box on the Notice of Claim form and draft a separate document outlining your story. In addition to the tips given in the “Self-Advocacy 101- Claim"
video, have a look at the pdf Self Advocacy Guide (1.09 MB) (pgs 9-10)
Once you are ready to draft, use these Legal Writing Tips to draft a strong and persuasive claim.
Service of Claim
After filing your Claim you will need to personally serve a copy of it on each of the other parties. You can do so by delivering the claim and handing it to them or hiring someone such as a bailiff. You can find more information on bailiffs here.
Once the parties are served, you or the person you hire will have to fill out an affidavit of service. The affidavit will set out when and where you served the other party and how you were able to determine it was in fact the other party (ie. because you recognize them or by looking at their driver’s license.)
Hold on to the affidavit as you will need it if the other party does not show up to the hearing.
Preparing for the Hearing
A good place to start is to watch the LISNS video “Advocacy 101 - Evidence”
Sketch out the points and facts you have to show the court and then ensure you have the evidence you will need to prove them. Evidence includes documents and objects but also witnesses. Don’t forget to meet with you witnesses and let them know what you intend to ask them well ahead of your hearing.
How to Defend a Claim
If you have been served a Notice of Claim, this means someone has brought a claim against you. If you do not respond to the Notice of Claim by filing a Defence within the correct amount of time then the adjudicator may decide against you without even having a hearing.
The Notice of Claim should give you the information about the claim that you need such as the reason for the claim and the hearing date. You will have a few options to consider if this happens to you, so make the decision carefully:
Settling out of Court
If you would like to avoid the court process then you can try to settle out of court. There are two main ways to do this:
Negotiate. In some cases it may be possible to negotiate a settlement that works for both parties. This option may be much more time and cost effective than going to court. Negotiations can be done between the parties or through a mediator.
If you agree to settle out of court make sure your agreement is in writing and signed by both parties. Also remind the claimant to cancel the hearing date and confirm with the court that the hearing has been cancelled.
Payment or Compliance. The other option is to simply comply with the request made by the claimant in their Notice of Claim. If you believe that the case will not go in your favour and that the claimants request is fair then you have the option of contacting the claimant and making arrangements to comply with their request.
Filing Your Defence
Although it’s safe to say most people don’t like going to court, sometimes there is no other choice. If settlement is not an option, you will need to file either a Defence or Counterclaim.
If you are going to try to defend your claim, you must file a Defence. This form will be attached to the bottom of the claim you received. After filling the defence out, you will file it with the clerk at the Small Claims Court and then serve the claimant. You can do this by personal service, registered mail, or any other way of service the court suggests.
It is also possible to file a Counterclaim. A counterclaim would be for a case where you believe the claimant actually wronged you in some way or where you believe the claimant is also responsible for the claim they are bringing forward. There is a fee of $66.00 to file a counterclaim and it must be done within 20 days of the claimant serving you. You must serve the counterclaim on the claimant by personal service, registered mail or another way of service if directed by the courts. You can use the Defence form as well for the counterclaim. The adjudicator will look at both claims together to make a decision.
A lawyer can provide helpful advice regarding your possible defence or counterclaim.
If you do not file a Defence or Counterclaim within 20 days of being served the Notice of Claim then the claimant can ask the court for a Quick Judgement. This is a legal process which allows a decision to be made without a court hearing.
Quick Judgements are not given automatically. The claimant will need to provide a sworn affidavit, the application for a Quick Judgment, Notice of Claim, and evidence which will be given to the adjudicator.
Presenting Your Case in Court
While starting your claim is as easy as 1,2,3 just follow your ABC’s when presenting your case in court.
- Always Informed;
- Be Prepared; and
- Courtesy is key.
By learning everything you need to know about the process, the applicable laws and by visiting the courtroom ahead of your hearing, you will feel more comfortable and confident to tell you story. Always informed.
By having your case organized and laid out with copies of everything you need along with relaxed and prepared witnesses, you will ensure that the court can focus on the merits of your case and avoid being distracted. Have another look at the pdf Self Advocacy Guide (1.09 MB) and watch the Top Tips video. Be Prepared.
The courtroom is a stressful environment but remember everyone is trying their best to do their job. Make sure you treat everyone with the respect you would expect them to treat you with. Courtesy is key.
The Small Claims Court Adjudicators have identified 7 things that people overlook when presenting a case in Small Claims Court. Review each tip carefully to ensure you are as prepared as possible when making your case.
TIP 1. Tell a story
The Adjudicator at your hearing needs to understand the story of your case so make sure to tell it right. At the hearing make sure to:
- Introduce yourself (you are an important character in the story!).
- Take your time.
- Set the stage.
- Good stories have a beginning, middle and end.
- Start at the beginning of the story and tell it in a step-by-step way.
- The story should end with your choice to bring the case to Small Claims Court.
If you are defending a claim that has been brought against you then the same guidelines apply, except the claimant gets to tell their side of the story first.
TIP 2. Use evidence
The Adjudicator will decide your case based on the evidence so you better have some ready! You cannot rely on just your story alone, you need evidence to verify that your story is true.
- The two main forms of evidence are witnesses and documents.
- Witnesses have first-hand knowledge of what happened, if they don’t then their evidence is called “hearsay” and given little or no weight.
- The witnesses and documents that you will rely on need to be ready for the hearing!
- You must bring to court all of the witnesses (including yourself) and documents that help support your story. You have the ability to subpoena witnesses for the hearing. Read this brochure for more info on using subpoena's.
- Sometimes, a hearing may be adjourned (rescheduled) to allow a witness to attend on another day, but there had better be a good reason for why they are not there.
TIP 3. Cross-examine
You will have the chance to cross-examine the other party and their witnesses. Are you ready?
- Cross-examination means asking questions, not just arguing with the witness.
- A good cross-examination brings out facts that the witness did not mention, or shows that they may not be telling the whole truth.
- If you choose to cross-examine, be careful what you ask, as you are stuck with the answers.
- Many self-represented parties choose not to cross-examine, knowing that cross-examination is a legal skill that not everyone possesses.
- Generally, an Adjudicator will understand if you decide not to cross-examine.
TIP 4. Prove documents
Documents that you want to use as evidence have to be authenticated at the hearing. That means someone at the hearing has to confirm that the document is genuine.
For example, if there is an email between Anna and Bob then either Anna or Bob can authenticate the email at the hearing by saying “I sent it” or “I received it.” If it is a contract, you may be able to testify that you signed it, or were given it. If it is a photograph, someone may need to testify that they took the photograph.
- A document that is not authenticated may not be accepted, or may be given little “weight.”
- Make sure to bring enough copies of your documents (usually three) so that the court and the other party can have one.
- The same is true of photographs – bring copies for everyone.
- If you plan to show a video, bring copies on a DVD or thumb drive, so it can be shown on the equipment in the court and also taken away by the Adjudicator.
Do not offer to show pictures or videos on your phone or laptop. Print them out and bring copies, or in the case of videos, bring it on a CD or thumb drive.
TIP 5. Expert opinions
You might want an expert to testify at your hearing.
- Sometimes, to support your case you need an expert to testify.
- For example, you may have a mechanic who can testify that a repair done to your car by someone else was improper.
- If you are going to rely on an expert then have that expert put their opinion in writing, and also come to court prepared to testify.
- You may have to pay them for their time. That is only fair.
If you get a report from an expert before your hearing then there are some steps you should take:
- If you get an expert report then you should send it to the other party with plenty of time before the hearing so they are not taken by surprise.
- If expert reports are not shared before the hearing, there is a risk that the trial will have to be adjourned (rescheduled) so the other party can prepare a response.
TIP 6. Beware the internet
Adjudicators will not accept articles or opinions that you got off the internet.
- The internet may be a good starting point for educating yourself, but printouts from the internet will rarely be accepted as evidence.
- For example, you may find a website where someone in the US gives an opinion that a vehicle has defective brakes. The court will not accept that as evidence. You will need an expert who can be there in person to defend his or her opinion.
TIP 7. Ask for help!
The more complicated your case is, or the more money is involved, the more important it is to get a bit of legal help.
- Getting legal help can build your confidence that you are on the right track.
- Ask a lawyer or paralegal in your community – a free or low cost consultation may be available.
- Consider asking for help from the Legal Information Society which has a Lawyer Referral Service where a lawyer may provide a half hour consultation for $20 fee. For more information on this service, you can visit the website here.
- The Adjudicator hearing your case may also be willing to help, to a degree, where you are uncertain about proper procedure.
You have ten days from the date of the order of the Director of Residential Tenancies to file an appeal with the Small Claims Court.
You need to complete a Notice of Appeal form, which you can get from the Small Claims Court in your area. You have to explain why you are appealing the decision and provide a copy of the Director’s order. You will file this at the Small Claims Court.
A copy of the Notice of Appeal form will need to be served to the respondent and the Director of Residential Tenancies.
You can find a list of regulations and forms here, as well as the Residential Tenancies Act here.
An appeal of a residential tenancies matter is a re-hearing of your case. You are expected to resubmit any evidence you already submitted at the residential tenancies hearing and are permitted to bring new evidence.
The Adjudicator will issue a decision within 14 days.