On January 1st, 2020, a number of important changes to Ontario's civil courts system came into place. Chief among these changes are increases to the claim limits for Small Claims Court and the Simplified Procedure process under the Rules of Civil Procedure.
Changes to Small Claims Court Limits
As of January 1st, 2020, individuals can bring claims of up to $35,000 in Small Claims Court, which is a substantial increase over the previous limit of $25,000.
While it is still too early to tell how this increase in claim limit will impact civil litigation in Ontario, employers should brace themselves for a number of changes in the employment litigation landscape:
- More Small Claims Court Cases. An increased claim limit will likely lead to a greater volume of employment cases being heard in Small Claims Court. This will likely result in a significant decrease in the lifespan of cases, as actions within Small Claims Court are typically resolved within a year or less.
Of course however, it remains to be seen how the increased volume of Small Claims Court cases will impact the Court's processing times.
- More Self-Represented Litigants. Individuals do not need a lawyer to appear before the Small Claims Court. Accordingly, employers should expect to see an increase in claims from self-represented litigants.
- More Claims Overall. Employers can also expect to see an overall increase in the number of employment-related claims in Ontario. By increasing the amount of claims that can be brought without incurring the costs of legal representation, the new claim limit has the potential to make employment claims more financially worthwhile to individuals.
Changes to Simplified Procedure
Significant changes to the Simplified Procedure process also came into effect on January 1, 2020.
Simplified Procedure is a process under the Rules of Civil Procedure that provides parties with a streamlined litigation process. It is intended to allow individuals to resolve their legal issues more quickly and affordably.
Some of the key changes that came into place on January 1st are:
- Increased Claim Limit. Prior to January 1, 2020, Simplified Procedure was mandatory for claims of $100,000 or under. That limit has now been increased to $200,000.
- Trial Limits. The length of trials under Simplified Procedure is now capped at 5 days.
- Cost Limits. Costs awards following a Simplified Procedure trial are now capped at $50,000.
Since employment claims in Ontario are frequently between $100,000 to $200,000, employers can expect to see a significant increase in the volume of claims brought under Simplified Procedure.
Ultimately, this could be a good thing for employers.
The new costs limits under Simplified Procedure make trials less attractive for employees, as it typically costs over $50,000 to bring a case to trial. Unable to recoup even a partial amount of the fees incurred at trial, it's possible that employees and their counsel will be increasingly inclined towards settlement.
For cases that don't settle, the new rules could potentially limit the costs associated with proceeding to trial.
One thing is clear though: 2020 is shaping up to be an interesting year for employment litigation in Ontario.
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