How to prepare for a Settlement Conference in Small Claims Court in Ontario
Small Claims Court is intended to be a place where people can access justice without necessarily incurring the expense of hiring a lawyer or licensed paralegal.
That being said, following the correct process and procedure in Small Claims Court is no walk in the park. If you're reading this article, we're going to assume that you've either already sued someone, or are in the middle of being sued, in Ontario's Small Claims Court.
When and where does the Settlement Conference take place?
The Settlement Conference must take place within 90 days after a defendant files their Defence with the Court. If there is more than one defendant, then the clock starts from the date that the first Defence is filed.
The Court will send a letter to all parties with a time and place for the Settlement Conference, which will take place at the Courthouse where the case was filed.
What is the purpose of the Settlement Conference?
There are five official purposes of the Settlement Conference. They are as follows:
(a) to resolve or narrow the issues in the case;
(b) to expedite the disposition of the case;
(c) to encourage settlement of the case;
(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.
Do I have to bring anything to the Settlement Conference?
The Court will mail a blank list of proposed witnesses (Form 13A) to all parties well in advance of the Settlement Conference. You must fill out this form and give a copy of the completed form to the opposite party at least 14 days in before the date of the settlement conference.
You must also bring a copy of any document that you plan to rely upon at any possible trial which you didn't already include in your Plaintiff's Claim or Defence. If you plan to call an expert witness at your trial, such as a doctor, engineer, architect, accountant, etc. then your expert witness must create an "expert report" which you must give to the opposite party 14 days before the Settlement Conference.
Who will attend the Settlement Conference?
You cannot bring witnesses to the Settlement Conference unless those witnesses are also named as either Plaintiffs or Defendants in the case.
The Settlement Conference is a private meeting and the only people who will be permitted to the present are the following:
(a) A Deputy Judge (this person will not be the judge at your trial)
(b) Any and all Plaintiffs
(c) Any and all Defendants
(d) The parties' lawyers or paralegals (if any)
(e) Language interpreters, if necessary
What happens if either party doesn't attend the Settlement Conference?
If one party attends the Settlement Conference but the other party is in attendance, the Judge may order the absent party to pay compensation to the party who attended. The Judge will typically then set a date for a second settlement conference.
If a Defendant is absent again at a second conference, then the Judge may strike out the Defendant's Defence. If the Defendant made a "Defendant's Claim" (sort of like a "Counterclaim"), then the Judge can also dismiss the Defendant’s Claim. On top of all that, the Judge may also allow the Plaintiff to prove the Plaintiff’s Claim in the absence of the Defendant. In other words, it can be very bad for the Defendant to miss two Settlement Conferences.
We agreed on a settlement, now what?
If you are able to settle your case with the opposing party at the Settlement Conference, you'll need to formalize your settlement in writing with a Form 14D. Each party to the settlement must sign the form, along with an additional person(s) to witness the signatures.
There are blank spaces on the form to specify the particular details of your settlement, such as payment amounts and schedule of payments.
There are also standard clauses on the form, such as clauses that indicate that the case shall be closed ("withdrawn"), that the parties will not sue each other again regarding the same dispute, and that a Court may give judgment against any party who fails to comply with the settlement agreement.
If you need assistance with the any of the forms or wish to retain the services of a lawyer or licensed paralegal, feel free to schedule a free consultation by clicking here.