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Author: Marshall Yarmus
Date Posted: July 15 2019
In my opinion the Settlement Conference is the most important hearing in a small claims court Ontario. This statement applies whether you settle or not.
The Rules of the Small Claims Court outline the many purposes to a settlement conference. They include:
“13.03 (1) The purposes of a settlement conference are,
(a) to resolve or narrow the issues in the action;
(b) to expedite the disposition of the action;
(c) to encourage settlement of the action;
(d) to assist the parties in effective preparation for trial; and
(e) to provide full disclosure between the parties of the relevant facts and evidence. O. Reg. 78/06, s. 27.”
This is the hearing where many self-represented litigants learn that if the case goes to trial it will take hours, a day, or multiple days for the trial to be heard. It is best to hire a paralegal Ontario to deal with your case.
Reasons why a settlement conference is the most important hearing in a small claims court case:
You can request that a judge at a settlement conference make many different orders. A judge is permitted to make orders including: adding or deleting parties, staying the action, amending or striking out a claim or defense, staying or dismissing a claim, directing production of documents, changing the place of trial, directing an additional settlement conference, and ordering costs. (See Small Claims Court Rules 13.05(1)(2))
The settlement conference is the place you and your legal representative can learn more about your opponent’s case. Discussions at a settlement conference usually include specifics of matters only touched upon in the pleadings. A good legal representative will use what they hear at a settlement conference to help them in trial preparation.
Listen to the opposing side. Try to see the case from their point of view. A good legal representative tries to see the case from their opponent’s point of view. This helps them better assess the strengths and weaknesses of their client’s case.
The judge at a settlement conference may make suggestions to both sides regarding what they can do to better prepare for trial. (See Small Claims Court Rule 13.03(1)(d))
This is the only hearing where you have a chance early in a small claims court proceeding to try to settle the case, before you spend a lot of time and money preparing for trial. The settlement conference judge may give an opinion on who they think will be successful at trial, and why. Although, there will be a different judge if the matter proceeds to trial, it is valuable to hear a judge’s opinion.
Can the settlement conference judge make a final and binding decision on who wins and looses without a formal trial? Yes – provided Small Claims Court Rule 13.05(4) applies. If the amount of the claim(s) is less than the appealable limit (currently $2,500.00), and prior to the commencement of the settlement conference all the parties sign a consent (form 13B) indicating they wish to obtain a final determination of the matter at the settlement conference if a settlement cannot be reached.
Most Defendants who settle the case pay the agreed upon settlement amount. In most cases where a judge decides a case at trial, the Defendant does not voluntarily make payment to the Plaintiff. The Plaintiff who wins at trial often has to spend more money and time enforcing their judgment. It has been said that sometimes the worst thing that can happen for a Plaintiff is they go to trial and obtain a judgment.
You may win at trial. The opposing side may appeal. Although appeals of Small Claims Court decisions are not common, they do happen. An appeal is outside the scope of services a paralegal is trained and permitted to represent. It can be very expensive to hire a lawyer to fight an appeal.
Trials are very stressful. A good settlement allows both parties to walk away a little unhappy.
You may not have the evidence necessary to be successful at trial. Though you may have a strong case, you may be missing the important witness, photo, receipt, estimate, or an expert’s report to be successful at trial.
You may need an independent expert’s report or an expert witness at trial. They are not cheap. If you are self-represented you may not even be aware you need an expert to be successful at trial.
It is difficult to get witnesses to voluntarily attend trial. People may say they will be witnesses at trial now, but their mind might change closer to a trial date. Their are drawbacks to issuing summons to witnesses.
Ten Reasons Why a Settlement Conference Is the Most Important Hearing In a Small Claims Court Case
By Marshall Yarmus, May 20 2022