Replying to a Claim
If someone is suing you in small claims court, you will receive a notice of claim. For most people, this raises a lot of questions. This guide will answer some of those questions and give you information that may help you with some of the decisions you'll have to make.
If you decide to oppose the claim, it will tell you how. If you simply want a reasonable payment schedule, it will tell you how to arrange that.
If you are a claimant and the person you are suing makes a counterclaim against you, this guide may provide some help with some of the decisions you'll have to make.
Read the guide first and then decide what action you want to take.
For answers to particular problems or questions, read the small claims court rules or seek legal advice.
Note: From time to time, the Ministry of Justice and the Provincial Court run pilot projects to explore ways to improve the small claims court. If the registry where your case is filed is running a pilot project, it might not follow the process in this guide. You can find more information on the pilot project processes or from your court registry.
- I have received a notice of claim. What if I just do nothing?
- What if I want to pay the claim?
- What if I don't agree with the claim?
- What is a reply?
- How much time do I have to file my reply?
- Where do I get a reply form?
- How do I fill out the reply?
- What do I do with my reply, after I have filed it out?
- What happens next?
- What if I think there is someone else who should pay?
The one thing you should NOT do is ignore the claim. If you do nothing, the claimant can get a judgment against you, just as if there had been a trial.
You may agree that you owe what is claimed. If that's the case, you can pay it directly to the claimant. Or you may contact the claimant to make some arrangements that you can both live with and the claimant can withdraw the claim. Either way, that will end the lawsuit.
Alternatively, if you have reached an agreement, you may both sign a consent order and file it with the registry or the claimant may file a payment order with the registry. Nothing further would happen with the lawsuit, unless the terms of the agreement were not followed.
If you and the claimant cannot agree, either on the claim itself or on the terms of payment, there are several things you can do:
- If you do owe what is claimed, but can't pay it right away and can't agree with the claimant on a payment schedule, you can ask the court to set a schedule of payments that you can handle
- If you don't agree with the claim, you can deny all or part of what the claimant says
- You can make a claim against the claimant
Whatever you decide, the reply is the form you will use.
The reply is your answer to the notice of claim. It is a special form you will use to tell:
- what you disagree with in the notice of claim, and why
- what, if anything, you agree with
- what, if anything, you are claiming against the claimant, and
- whether you want the court to set a payment schedule
If you were served your notice of claim in British Columbia, you have 14 days from that date to file your reply. If you were served your notice of claim outside the province, you have 30 days to reply.
Even after the time limit has passed, the court registry will still file your reply, as long as the claimant has not obtained a default order against you or had a hearing date set to determine what you owe in default. If one of those things has happened, you can still ask the court for permission to file a reply after the time limit but you will have to have a good reason for your delay.
When the claimant gave or sent you the notice of claim, a blank reply form should have been included. If it was not, or if you need another form, you can get one from any small claims registry. If there isn't one near you, your ServiceBC office may have the forms. You can also access the form (SCR Form 2) online.
The small claims court forms are specially designed to be used by people who are not lawyers. You may find all the help you need on the sheet that is attached to the front of the form. You may also wish to use the online Filing Assistant, which will prompt you through a series of questions that will help you complete the reply form.
More information about completing the form is included below. We'll look at each section in the reply form and go through it step by step.
This is where you put the name of the claimant. Simply copy the claimant's name, address and telephone number from the notice of claim.
This is where you put your own name, address and telephone number. Copy your name as it appears on the notice of claim.
The address given on the notice of claim may not be the right one. Be sure the address you give is correct because this is where the registry will send any further notices or information to you. If your address changes at any time, be sure to notify the small claims court registry and all other parties to the lawsuit. Otherwise, they will continue to send mail to your old address and you won't know what is happening in your case.
This is where you tell what you disagree with in the notice of claim. You should take some care with this part.
Look at the "How Much" section of the notice of claim. If the claim has more than one part - a, b, c, and so on - then you should reply to each part separately, using the same letters.
If there is anything in the notice of claim that you agree with, be sure to include that here. Otherwise, the claimant might have to spend money to prove it in court. The judge could order you to pay the claimant back for money that was wasted proving something that was never really an issue.
Try to be brief. You may have other quarrels with the claimant, but don't include them here. Stick to only those items that appear in the notice of claim under "How Much". Don't worry about using "legal language". Just make your point in your own words.
AGREEMENT WITH THE CLAIM:
Most of us want to pay what we owe. Often the reason we don't is that we simply can't. Or we can't pay it right away. Sometimes installment payments can be the answer. Or a delayed payment date might satisfy both sides.
If you want to pay the claim but you need some time - and you can't come to an agreement with the claimant - fill in this space with the sort of payment arrangements you want to make.
If you have a claim to make against the claimant, this is where it goes. For example, if the roofer in Example 1 hadn't been paid for the work, he might make a counterclaim for the amount owing on the invoice. A counterclaim is just another claim, like the one in the notice of claim, except that it is made by the defendant, against the claimant. It is important to correctly identify who you are suing.
For more information about making a counterclaim, read guide #2: Making a Claim, which you can get at any small claims registry or online. Your ServiceBC office may also have the guide.
This is where you say what you are claiming in your counterclaim. Again, look at guide #2: Making a Claim, for more information.
The next step is to file the reply with the court. You do that by taking or mailing it to the small claims registry. The address will be on the notice of claim you received. If you have completed the reply form online, make sure you print and file it at the registry.
When your reply is filed, you will be asked to pay a filing fee unless you have agreed to pay the full claim. If you have set out a counterclaim there will be an additional fee. The fee for filing a counterclaim will depend on the amount of the counterclaim. You may pay by cash, personal or company cheque, certified cheque, money order or bank draft, payable to the Minister of Finance.
Once the registry has accepted your reply form, they will send a copy to each of the other parties in the case (usually there is only the claimant).
If you had agreed to pay all or part of the claim, the claimant may contact you to sign a consent order setting out the terms for payment or the claimant might file a payment order at the court registry.
If the claimant doesn't agree with your proposed payment schedule, you can ask for a payment hearing or the claimant may summons you to a payment hearing so that the payment schedule can be set by the court. You can read more about payment hearings in guide #6: Getting Results.
If your offer is not acceptable to the claimant, a settlement conference is usually the next step. You will receive a notice in the mail, telling you where and when it will be held and you must attend. You can read more about the settlement conference in guide #5: Getting Ready for Court.
The judge at the settlement conference will discuss with both of you the possibility of settling the claim. If you have asked in your reply for a payment schedule, that will be discussed at the settlement conference.
Remember that at any stage, you are always free to try to work out some agreement with the claimant, which will put an end to the lawsuit.
It may be that there is someone else who should be responsible for paying the claim.
This is called a "third party claim". If you have a third party claim, you will fill out the form and file it in the registry, just as you did with your reply. There is a fee for filing a third party notice.
Then you have to let the third party know about your claim. You do this by serving the third party with these documents:
- a copy of the third party notice
- a copy of the notice of claim
- a copy of your reply
- a copy of any settlement conference, mediation session, trial conference or trial, if one has been issued, and
- a blank reply form
A third party notice must be served in the same way as a notice of claim. For more information about service, see guide #4: Serving Documents.