How to prepare a winning small claims case

Whether your small claim case will be heard through informal appointment, mediation or open court trial, you must know how to present a winning small claim case - which means preparation. 

Assembling the critical facts concerning your dispute, evidence, witnesses, exhibits, documents and other elements needed to prove your small claim case is essential.

Depending on the nature of your complaint you will need the following:

  • Written contracts, estimates, proposals or bids.
  • Letters and correspondence between you and your adversary.
  • Any bills, whether paid or unpaid, as well as cancelled cheques, receipts or other evidence of payment.
  • In personal injury cases, medical reports and certification of injury from your doctor as well as medical bills.
  • If you could not work due to these injuries, certification of absence from your employer as well as a statement of lost wages.
  • If relevant, photographs of injury to yourself or damage to your property.
  • In landlord/tenant cases, copies of your lease, rent receipts, security deposits or cleaning fees.
  • Witnesses willing to testify for you, or give you a sworn statement of truth.
  • If the dispute involves a road accident, a sketch (or photograph) of the accident site.
  • A timetable of when important events occurred.

The small claims court may give you 'Standard Directions for use in claims arising out of road traffic accidents' or 'Standard directions for use in claims arising out of building disputes, vehicle repairs and similar contractual claims' after the Allocation Stage. These special directions are a good guide to the kind of evidence that will support any small claim you make.

Send a copy of your written documents, photographs and sketches to your adversary in advance of the small claim hearing and ask for agreement as to their authenticity and accuracy. This can save time at the small claim hearing and will help avoid any objections at the hearing that can only prolong the proceedings.

When you have assembled these documents, prepare a sequence of facts that includes the following:

  • A list of witnesses and the statements each will make.
  • A list of documents you will introduce at the hearing.
  • A list of statements you will make in presenting your case.

Then reverse your role and anticipate your adversary's small claim case by listing the witnesses, statements, and arguments you believe your adversary will use. With this completed, list the questions you will ask your adversary to disprove their statements. Finally assemble the documents that show your adversary's statements are incorrect.

Remember, you may present three categories of evidence:

  1. Physical evidence - such as damaged property, as well as documents (contracts, receipts, photographs, etc.).

  2. Spoken evidence - the statements of testimony given by you, or others on your behalf, familiar with certain facts of the case.

  3. Expert evidence - the testimony of an expert with the professional qualifications to give an opinion on certain facts of the case. Remember, you need the permission of the small claim court to call an expert. If you think you will need one, ask for this on section E of the Allocation Questionnaire.

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Published on: February 1, 2006

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