I still remember the day our lawsuit started. I was in shock when I received our Statement of Claim. Back then, I knew nothing about the legal system. I didn’t know any lawyers, and never thought I’d ever need one! And there I was, holding this intimidating piece of paper in my hand, and not knowing what to do with it.
I called a few friends and asked for help and advice.I was told I needed a “litigator”. The next few days were dreadful: we rushed around to find a litigator, as knew we only had 20 days to respond. Little did I know that the lawsuit would then continue on for the next ten years!
I am glad that despite my anxiety, I didn’t ignore it. As it turns out, ignoring claims can lead to very serious trouble! If you do not respond in the way that is dictated by court rules, the plaintiff can go to court to ask it to issue an order against you, without you having ever shown up at court to tell your side of the story. This order is called a “Default Judgement”.
If you want to learn more about the default process, you should first look the rules that apply to the court your case is in.
For Ontario Superior Court civil cases, for example, Rule 19 apply to default procedures. The rules say that the plaintiff has to “note” the defendant “in default” before proceeding to obtain a default judgement. When a defendant has been “noted in default”, there are severe consequences:
19.02 (1) A defendant who has been noted in default,
(a) is deemed to admit the truth of all allegations of fact made in the statement of claim; and
(b) shall not deliver a statement of defence or take any other step in the action, other than a motion to set aside the noting of default or any judgment obtained by reason of the default, except with leave of the court or the consent of the plaintiff. R.R.O. 1990, Reg. 194, r. 19.02 (1).
The plaintiff can go to the court Registrar to issue default judgement in some circumstances (see Rule 19.04(1) ), or they can bring a motion to a judge for default judgement. Check Rule 19 in the Rules of Civil Procedure for further details: http://canlii.ca/t/t8m
Either way, it is very important for a person who has been sued to get legal advice right away, and possibly legal representation also.
There are clinics that provide free advice for those who cannot afford to hire a lawyer. There are family law information centres (“FLIC”) for family litigants, and Pro Bono Law Ontario has a helpline https://www.probonoontario.org/ for civil litigation litigants. Alternatively, one can go to the Law Society of Ontario’s directory and search for lawyers under limited scope retainers to find lawyers who offer “unbundled” or “task based” services, who will be able to offer consultations on your case, likely also provide drafting or other types of assistance to your response (whether it be a statement of defence or other ways of responding to the claim).
Other limited scope service directories include the following:
- Family Law Limited Scope Services Project: https://www.familylawlss.ca/lawyer-directory/
- National Self-Represented Litigants Project Directory https://representingyourselfcanada.com/directory/
- Self-Rep Navigators (an association that I am a co-founder): http://www.limitedscoperetainers.ca/
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