Civil Claims

There are several things to consider before you sue or if you are being sued:

  • The Basics
  • Before You Sue
  • Is it Worth Suing
  • If You Have to Sue Someone
  • Forms Needed for a Civil Claim
  • Service of Documents
  • Choices You Have if You are Sued
  • Mediation, Pre-Trial Conferences and Trial
  • Adjournments
  • Default Judgment
  • Preparing for the Hearing
  • Conducting a Trial
  • After the Appearance
  • Appeals

Before commencing a civil claim, it is a good idea to review the entire process.

The basics

To sue means to bring your problem before a judge for a legal decision. The Civil Division of the Provincial Court is designed for people to present their legal problems without the need to hire a lawyer.

However, it is your option to hire a lawyer or an agent to assist you in court (an agent will not be provided by the court). This person can question the other party and any witnesses for you and can sum up the case on your behalf. 

The flowchart of the civil claims process provides an overview of the process.

Before you sue

There are several things to consider before you commence a lawsuit:

  • Alternatives to suing
  • Are you eligible to sue?
  • Limit on the amount you can sue for
  • What you cannot sue for
  • Time limits

Alternatives to suing

Before suing, you may make a written demand of the other party for payment by a specific date, in the hope that you do not have to take the matter to court.

You may also find that there is an agency that will help you solve your problem. For example, if you are owed money for wages, the Alberta Employment Standards Branch may be able to help you. Also, Service Alberta – Consumer Protection, can help with some consumer problems.

Are you eligible to sue?

You have to be 18 to sue someone, or you have to find an adult to accept responsibility for the lawsuit, including costs. This person is called a “next friend”.

Limit on the amount you can sue for

In Civil Claims, you can sue for an amount up to $50,000. If your claim is for more than $50,000, you can drop (or abandon) the extra amount or you can go to the Court of Queen’s Bench to sue for the total amount.

You can start your action in any Provincial Court office in Alberta.

What you cannot sue for

In Provincial Court, you cannot sue for:

  • matters involving the ownership of land;
  • matters involving wills, malicious prosecution, false imprisonment, or defamation (libel and slander); or,
  • matters involving governments.

Time limits to sue

In many cases, you cannot sue after a certain period of time has gone by (the “limitation period”). The time limit depends on the reason for suing.

For general debt problems, such as contracts, loans, damage deposits and rent, you must sue within two years from the time the debt began. An exception is where it has been stated, in writing, that the person knows the money is still owed, or if the person paid a part of the debt. The two-year limitation period starts when the debt was last acknowledged.

If you are suing for injuries or damages caused to yourself or your property (for example, an assault or a car accident), you must sue within two years of the injury or damages. If you wish to sue your insurance company for failure to pay you as a result of an accident, you must do so within one year.

This is a complex area of law and you should consult a lawyer if there is any doubt about the limitation period. 

Is it worth suing?

Suing will cost you time and money. There are filing fees, witness fees, and you cannot sue for lost wages while attending the hearing, usually one morning or afternoon in court. Also, you will spend some time picking up forms and filing your claim.

It will cost you a fee to file your Civil Claim (Provincial Court Costs and Fees Regulation). There may be additional costs to have the defendant served with a Civil Claim or a witness served with a Notice to Attend and pay interpreter fees.

You may apply to waive the filing fee if you can show that you cannot pay because of financial hardship. If you are interested in applying for a fee waiver, please see the guidelines outlined on the Fee Waiver Application.

If you win, the above costs will usually be included in the amount the judge orders the defendant to pay you.

You should also think about the person that you want to sue. Do you know where that person is? If you win, will you be able to collect? (The person may not have money now, but financial situations can change. The judge’s decision is valid for ten years).

You should consider whether you have enough evidence to support your claim. If it is just your word against that of the other person, it may be difficult to prove your case. Any documents (for example, letters, bills, or leases) or witnesses may help you prove your case.

If you have to sue someone

Sometimes people sue the wrong person and, as a result, they lose their case. As a general rule, you are allowed to sue with one Civil Claim Form as many people, companies or firms as are involved with the problem.

Individuals 

When suing an individual or group of individuals, use full first and last names of each person you are suing. Do not use initials because initials do not sufficiently identify the person being sued.

Business

If you are suing a business, remember that there are two types of businesses: incorporated or unincorporated. The difference between the two is very important. 

An incorporated business usually has Limited or Ltd. after its name (the term company does not necessarily refer to an incorporated business). An incorporated business can be sued only in the name of the business. Put the full name of the business in the Civil Claim.

To find out the exact name of an incorporated business and who can be served with documents on behalf of the incorporated business, a corporate search should be requested from an authorized agent for Alberta Registries.

Firms

Firms (partnerships of two or more persons) and sole proprietorships are called unincorporated businesses. An unincorporated business must be sued in the name of the owner. Put the owner’s full name and the name of the business on the Civil Claim. To find out the owners of an unincorporated business and the address of the owner, do a trade name search by contacting an authorized agent for Alberta Registries.

Forms needed for a Civil Claim

There are certain requirements to filing a Civil Claim.

Some types of Civil Claim include:

  • Return of Security/Damage Deposit
  • Motor Vehicle Accident
  • Personal Injury Claims from Motor Vehicle Accidents
  • Damages
  • General Claims/Debt
  • Contract

Filing a Civil Claim

The first step is to get the proper forms from the court office or from this website. Fill out the Civil Claim Form (which includes instructions in the interactive pdf, which is fillable online but cannot be filed online). Once the form is completed, give it to the court office with the fee. If you wish to apply for a fee waiver because of financial hardship, the form is available at the Court office or fill in a Fee Waiver Application.

When filing a Civil Claim, you must include:

  • Your full name
  • The Defendant’s full name
  • The amount of money you are asking for
  • When and where the problem occurred
  • Why you are suing (describe the problem in detail but not overly long or complex)
  • The number of witnesses you wish to call at trial
  • Your address and daytime telephone number
  • The Defendant’s address and daytime telephone number

Be sure to notify the court office if you change your address. Documents will be sent to the address on your claim.

Return of Security/Damage Deposit

If you are suing for the return of a damage deposit, you must prove:

  • a deposit was made;
  • the deposit was not returned or only partially repaid; and
  • the condition of the premises when you moved in and when you moved out.

You must be sure that you are suing the registered owner of the apartment or house. While you think the landlord is John Doe, it may actually be Doe Co. Ltd. Check with the city or town tax department, or an authorized agent for Alberta Registries.

View a sample of a Civil Claim for a return of security/damage deposit.

Motor Vehicle Accident

If you are suing because of a motor vehicle accident, you must prove: 

  • that the accident happened; 
  • the identity of the driver and/or owner of the car; 
  • how the accident happened and who caused it; and
  • the reason for the amount you are suing.

You should determine who owns the car. Ask your insurance agent to assist you. This should be done in case the driver was not the owner. If this is the case, you can sue both the driver and the owner, so that if you win the case, you can collect from either one. View a sample of a Filled-in Civil claim for a Motor Vehicle Accident.

Personal Injury Claims from Motor Vehicle Accidents 

All drivers in Alberta are required to have insurance in case they cause an accident. There are a few who do not, and they usually don't have the money to pay for the personal injuries they have caused. Sometimes the guilty driver flees the scene of the accident, and the injured victim doesn't know who to sue. 

The Motor Vehicle Accident Claims Act protects those victims by ensuring they have recourse to claim against uninsured motorists for their personal injuries. 

For more information on personal injury claims relating to the motor vehicle accident claims program, see the Alberta Justice website.

Damages

Damages are an amount that a party is claiming to cover actual injury or economic loss. Damages typically include medical expenses, lost wages and the repair or replacement of property. Damages are intended to put the injured party in the original position prior to the injury. View a sample of a Filled-in Civil Claim for Damages.

General Claims/Debt

A claim for monies owing for an amount agreed to between the parties.  A debt claim is for a specific sum of money owing from an invoice, promissory note or a verbal agreement. View a sample of a Filled-in Civil claim for General Claims.

Contract

If you are suing on a contract you have made, you must prove:

  • that there was a contract;
  • what the details of the contract are; and
  • how the contract was broken by the Defendant - the exact amount of money you are suing for and how you arrived at that amount.

If you are suing a corporation, it is always best to find out the registered name of the corporation by doing a corporate name search at an Alberta Registries.

Service of documents

Once the court has issued the Civil Claim and returned it to you, the next step is to give it to the defendant. This is called service. You must serve a Dispute Note with the Civil Claim on each defendant. The form of Dispute Note can be obtained at the court office and it is for the defendant to fill out.

You may serve the Civil Claim and the Dispute Note on any day of the week. Someone else may serve the Civil Claim and form of Dispute Note for you. If you are unable to serve your documents by one of the authorized methods, contact the court office for further instructions.

You (the plaintiff) may also hire a process server to serve the documents on your behalf. If you are successful with the lawsuit, the court will normally order the unsuccessful party to pay service costs.

Methods of service

You may serve the Civil Claim and form of Dispute Note on a person by:

  • giving the documents to that person.
  • leaving the documents at that person's most usual residence with a resident who is apparently 16 years of age or older; or
  • mailing the documents by registered mail. The defendant or someone on the defendant's behalf will sign to receive the documents. Keep the original postal receipt. Contact your post office to obtain a Copy of Signature or a Certificate of Delivery Confirmation document.

You may serve the Civil Claim and form of Dispute Note on a corporation by:

  • giving the documents to the president, chairman, head officer or a director of the corporation;
  • giving the documents to a manager, agent or officer of the corporation located where the Civil Claim was issued; or
  • leaving it at or sending it by registered mail to the registered office of the corporation.

If service is done by registered mail it is considered to be served 7 days from the date of mailing to an address in Alberta and 14 days if mailed to an address in Canada, outside of Alberta. Obtain a corporate search at an Alberta Registries to prove to the court that you have properly served the registered office of the corporation.

Affidavit of Service

After serving the defendant, the person who served the Civil Claim and form of Dispute Note must:

  • Fill out the Affidavit of Service.
  • Take the Affidavit of Service in person to a Commissioner for Oaths to be sworn. This may be done at any court office.
  • Give the commissioner the postal receipt and a copy of Signature of Certificate of Delivery Confirmation document if served on a person. This confirmation document is obtained through the post office. You can also obtain the confirmation through the Canada Post website. The commissioner will attach and mark the receipts and documents as exhibits.
  • Give the commissioner the postal receipt from the post office if served by registered mail on a corporation. The commissioner will attach and mark the receipt as an exhibit.

Choices you have if you are sued

If someone has filed a Civil Claim against you, you are called the defendant. You will receive a Civil Claim which tells why you are being sued, by whom, and for how much.

Ignoring the Civil Claim will not make it go away. When you receive a Civil Claim, you must take action. You must either settle the Civil Claim or file a Dispute Note.

The choices you have if you are sued are as follows:

  • Negotiate a Settlement
  • Pay the claim
  • File a dispute note
  • Notice of hearing

Negotiate a settlement

If you feel that you do owe some money to the other party (who is called the plaintiff), but not as much as claimed, offer what you feel is reasonable. If you are unable to pay it all at once, try to arrange a repayment plan with the plaintiff or arrange a payment hearing through the court office. Remind the other party that, by compromising, the time and expense of going to court will be avoided. If an agreement is reached, the plaintiff should also immediately inform the court office in writing that the matter has been settled, or complete and file a Notice of Withdrawal.

Pay the claim

You can pay the Civil Claim and costs directly to the plaintiff or to the court. Payment to the court office must be made by cash, certified cheque, money order, or debit card where available. Obtain a receipt. A court appearance will not be necessary if you choose this option.

File a Dispute Note

If you feel that there are some facts in your favour, do not be reluctant to defend yourself. You do this by completing the form called a Dispute Note. Upon receipt of a valid Dispute Note and the applicable filing fee, the court office will set an appearance date and notify all parties by mail.

You may include in the Dispute Note any counterclaim you may have against the plaintiff if you feel that the plaintiff owes you money. For example, the plaintiff may claim that you caused the accident which damaged the plaintiff's car. However, your car was also damaged in the accident and you think that the plaintiff caused the accident. The judge will look at both claims at the same time and decide who owes money to whom.

If you do not have a legitimate reason for disputing a claim, filing a Dispute Note may result in increased costs being awarded against you.

It will cost you a fee to file your Dispute Note. You may apply to waive the filing fee if you can show that you cannot pay because of financial hardship. If you are interested in applying for a fee waiver, please see the guidelines outlined on the Fee Waiver Application.

What's the next step?

Once you file a Dispute Note, your matter may be scheduled for an appearance for mediation, pre-trial conference, or trial.

The appearance will be held at the courthouse nearest to:

  • where the cause of action arose; or
  • the place where the defendant or one of the co-defendants resided or carried on business at the time the Civil Claim was issued.

Mediation, Pre-Trial Conferences and Trial

If the defendant files the Dispute Note, the court office will set the time, date and place for the appearance. The matter may be scheduled for mediation, pre-trial conference, or trial. The court office will send a Notice of Hearing and a copy of the Dispute Note to all the parties.

Mediation and pre-trial conferences are available at some court locations. Contact the court office to see if either of these options are available in your area. A notice of the date and time of the appearance is sent to all parties and attendance is mandatory. Bring with you any relevant documents.

Witnesses are not allowed to attend.

Mediation 

Mediation is an informal private method in which the parties resolve the dispute by reaching an agreement with the assistance of a mediator(s). Both parties are given an equal opportunity to describe and discuss the sources of conflict and are assisted by neutral mediators in reaching a mutually acceptable solution. If the matter cannot be resolved at a mediation session the matter will then be set for a hearing before a judge and parties will be notified in writing of the date and time.

Pre-trial conference 

Pre-trial conferences are an informal hearing between the parties and a judge, at which time each party will be given an opportunity to set out their position and attempt to reach a resolution. If no resolution can be reached the judge will direct the matter proceed to trial and may issue such pre-trial orders, as may be necessary.

The appearance will be held at the courthouse nearest to:

  • where the cause of action arose; or
  • the place where the defendant or one of the co-defendants resided or carried on business at the time the Civil Claim was issued.

Trial 

The appearance will be held at the courthouse nearest to:

  • where the cause of action arose; or
  • the place where the defendant or one of the co-defendants resided or carried on business at the time the Civil Claim was issued.

Adjournments 

Adjournments may be ordered by the judge or on the written consent of all parties. At the discretion of the judge, costs may be awarded against either party depending on the reasons for the adjournment.

Default Judgment 

If the defendant does not pay the Civil Claim or file a Dispute Note within 20 days after being served with the document (30 days if served outside Alberta), in certain cases you can obtain judgment against the defendant without having a hearing. This is called a default judgment.

For example, if you are suing for an amount agreed to in a contract, you can ask the court office to enter judgment against the defendant. Upon your request and proof of service of the Civil Claim and form of Dispute Note on the defendant, the clerk will enter a Default Judgment and mail a Certificate of Judgment to all parties. It is your responsibility to submit to the clerk the form called Request for Default Judgment/Noting in Default.

If you are suing for a sum which is not a result of an agreement with the defendant, such as compensation for injuries which you suffered, you must ask the court office to set a date for a judge to determine your Civil Claim. This is called Noting in Default. It is your responsibility to submit to the clerk the form called Request for Default Judgment / Noting in Default.

Preparing for the Hearing

This Civil Claims video, A Successful Day in Court is an excellent video by the Canadian Bar Association, Alberta Branch, which will help you understand how to prepare for the hearing.

The following outlines the type of evidence which you may need to provide to prove your case on:

  • Contract
  • Motor vehicle accident
  • Debt
  • Return of damage/security deposit

In addition, there a few things to keep in mind to prove your case:

  • Witnesses
  • Documents
  • Photographs
  • Hearsay Rule

Contract

If you are suing on a contract you have made, you must prove:

  • that there was a contract; 
  • what the details of the contract are; 
  • how the contract was broken by the defendant; and 
  • the exact amount of money you are suing for and how you arrived at that amount. 

The most important evidence would be a written contract. A person who was present when the contract was made would be helpful as a witness.

To show why you are suing for a specific amount, you can use evidence such as cancelled cheques, receipts, or bills.

Motor vehicle accident

If you are suing because of a motor vehicle accident, you must prove:

  • that the accident happened;
  • the identity of the driver and/or owner of the car; 
  • how the accident happened and who caused it; and 
  • the reason for the amount you are suing. 

Your testimony and that of a witness can help prove that the accident happened and how it occurred.

Finally, to prove why you are claiming an amount of money, you should have more than one estimate of the cost of repair if you have not yet had the car repaired. If the car has already been repaired, you must have the bill for the work done.

If you are claiming for any other amounts such as towing charges or medical costs, you must have these bills as well.

Debt

If you are suing for a debt, such as an unpaid loan or a bad cheque, you will need to prove:

  • the debt exists; 
  • the amount of the debt; and 
  • the debt is unpaid or only partially paid. 

Anything you have in writing, such as an IOU, the bad cheque, or a letter will help to prove your case. Also, a person who was present when the transaction was made or who heard the defendant say that money was owed to you would be a benefit as a witness.

Return of damage/security deposit

If you are suing for the return of a damage deposit, you must prove:

  • a deposit was made; 
  • the deposit was not returned or only partially repaid; and 
  • the condition of the premises when you moved in and when you moved out. 

A cancelled cheque or receipt will help prove that you paid a deposit. In and Out Inspection reports (damage lists) and witnesses will help to prove what damage was or was not caused by you.

Witnesses 

If you intend to have witnesses, give each witness a Notice to Attend. A Notice to Attend is an order issued by the court office stating that the witness must appear in court on your appearance date.

The Notice to Attend must be served by personally delivering a copy to the witness. At the time of service, a Witness Fee must be paid to the witness. You will be required to pay witness and interpreter fees. For further information pertaining to costs and fees, contact the court.

After serving the witness, the person who delivered the Notice must complete an Affidavit of Service before a Commissioner for Oaths. This may be done at any court office. The sworn Affidavit of Service must be delivered in person or by mail to the court office.

Documents

The documents you use in court should be originals. If you only have a copy, be prepared to explain to the judge why you do not have the original.

It's strongly suggested that parties exchange all documents they intend to use in court before the appearance date.

Photographs

If you plan to use photographic evidence, the photographs must be verified by the photographer, who must also testify as to when the photographs were taken. Any photographs should be taken as soon as possible after the event took place.

Hearsay Rule

Hearsay evidence is second-hand evidence given about something which another person has seen or heard. The court requires that only people with a personal knowledge of events be brought as witnesses.

Written statements of anyone not present in court are unlikely to be accepted because the parties who made them cannot be questioned further.

Conducting a Trial

The following describes how you are expected to act in the courtroom:

  • Speaking in Court 
  • The Appearance 
  • Examination 
  • Cross-examination 
  • Re-examination
  • Summation
  • Decision of the Court

The video, Courtroom Etiquette, describes how to conduct yourself in Court.

Speaking in Court

When talking:

  • always stand when you are speaking to the judge or any witness
  • always speak clearly and slowly
  • always address the judge as "Your Honour"
  • never interrupt
  • never shout
  • never argue

If something occurs in the courtroom that you do not understand, it is permissible to ask the judge to explain what is happening.

The Appearance

When the judge calls your name, go to the front of the courtroom. The judge should be informed of all witnesses present.

The judge may ask the witnesses to leave the courtroom until required to give testimony. Each party will be given the opportunity to present their case and to cross-examine the witnesses for the other party

Examination 

You ask your witness questions to bring out what they know about the matter. Questions for your witness should be prepared before the hearing and should be as short and simple as possible. Remember that you must ask questions, not just make statements.

Cross-examination 

The other party asks your witness questions. The purpose of cross-examination is to bring out inconsistencies or missed facts in the witness' evidence. When a witness is being examined, making notes will help you to cross-examine. You do not have to cross-examine.

Re-examination

You have the opportunity to ask your witness to elaborate on statements made during the cross-examination. Only questions related to what the witness said during cross-examination are allowed. No new facts may be brought in.

Summation/Final Argument 

Both the plaintiff and the defendant briefly outline their cases before the judge makes a decision. 

Decision of the Court

The judge will make a decision at the appearance or at a later date on the weight of the evidence presented in court and on an assessment of the credibility of the witnesses.

After the Appearance

Certificate of Judgment 

All parties will be sent a Certificate of Judgment. The person may pay you after receiving a copy of the Judgment. If not, there are a number of steps you may consider to enforce the judgment and collect payment.

Enforcement of Judgment 

The procedures for enforcing your judgment through seizure or garnishment are described in Commencing a Claim in Provincial Court Civil and Getting and Enforcing your Judgment in Alberta. Also, if your judgment was for a motor vehicle accident, you can contact Alberta Registries, Motor Vehicles to have the person's driver's licence suspended.

If You Are Ordered to Pay

You have two alternatives: pay whatever amount is ordered by the judgment or appeal the Judge's decision. You may pay the amount of the Judgment directly to the successful party by cash, certified cheque, or money order. Make sure that you get a receipt.

Appeals

Notice of Appeal 

You may appeal the judge's decision. The appeal will be heard by the Court of Queen's Bench. Appeals must be filed in the same judicial district that issued the judgment. 

The appeal process does not apply if all parties did not attend court when the judgment was issued. Instead of appealing, you can apply to set aside the judgment in the provincial court that issued the judgment.

To appeal the Judgment of the Civil Division of the Provincial Court follow these steps:

  1. Within 30 days after Judgment is given in Provincial Court Civil
    • Fill out the Notice of Appeal form and file it at the Provincial court office where judgment was entered.
    • Order a transcript of evidence from the Transcript Management Services Office. You must pay for the transcript in advance. You will receive a receipt for payment of the transcript.
    • Serve the Notice of Appeal on all the Respondents. The Notice must be served personally, by registered mail, or as directed by the Court of Queen's Bench.
  2. Within 37 days after Judgment is given in Provincial Court
    • At the Court of Queen's Bench Civil Document filing area, file a copy of the Notice of Appeal, a copy of the transcript order / invoice showing receipt of payment and the Affidavit of Service proving that the Notice of Appeal has been served on all Respondents.
  3. Within 3 months of the date that the Notice of Appeal is filed in the Court of Queen's Bench
    • At the Court of Queen's Bench Civil Document filing area; file the transcript of evidence and serve copies on the Respondent(s) and any other person(s) that the Court of Queen's Bench directs. File the Affidavit(s) of Service proving that the transcript has been served on all Respondent(s) and any other person(s) as directed.

Once the transcript has been filed, the clerk's office of the Court of Queen's Bench will send out notice of the hearing date which will be set on the next available date.

Remember to keep the Queen's Bench clerk's office informed of any change of address for you or the respondent because missing information may delay the hearing.

If the Appellant does not file the transcript within 3 months, the Appeal will be dismissed.

Set aside application

The appeal process does not apply if all parties did not attend court when the judgment was issued. Instead of appealing, you can apply to set aside the judgment in the provincial court that issued the judgment.

Stay of Proceedings

When the appeal is filed in the Court of Queen's Bench, it operates as a stay of proceedings. This means that the Civil judgment cannot be enforced until the outcome of the appeal is decided.