Civil Cases in Canada

Civil cases in Canada differ from criminal cases in several ways. Learn more about how civil lawsuits work in Canada.

Civil Cases in Canada

If you are working with your personal injury lawyer to sue someone who caused you to be injured in an accident, you will want to know more about civil cases. A civil case can also be known as a lawsuit, a suit, or an action. A civil action can result when someone is injured and seeks compensation from the person or entity whose negligence caused the injury. The injury victim will bring a lawsuit against the person responsible. The person who sues is called the plaintiff; the person being sued is the defendant.


Stages of a Civil Suit

A civil suit goes through various stages, including pleadings, discovery, and trial:

  • Pleadings. First, the plaintiff must file a pleading with the court which specifies the complaint against the defendant as well as the remedy that the plaintiff is seeking. A court officer issues the claim by signing the pleading and affixing the seal of the court. Copies are then served on (meaning, delivered to) the defendant.

    The defendant then must provide the court with a statement of defence. (If the defendant does not do this, the court will assume that the plaintiff’s allegations are true, and the defendant may lose by default.)

    Both plaintiff and defendant should consult with lawyers.

  • Discovery. Both plaintiff and defendant are entitled to an examination for discovery before the trial. This process is an opportunity for both parties to the lawsuit to find out what the other party’s claim or defence is and examine all of the facts and evidence. This allows the parties to gather necessary information and assess the strengths and weakness of the material that the other side intends to use in court.

    Discoveries are governed by the 
    Rules of Civil Procedure. The person answering questions must swear an oath. All of the questions and answers are recorded by a reporter and are made available in a transcript.

    Prior to the discovery, all important documents related to the lawsuit should have been exchanged by the lawyers. The documents may include medical records, pay slips, accident reports, etc. Lawyers will review the documents and base their questions at discovery on them.

    During discovery, your lawyer will ask the defendant questions in an attempt to learn all of the evidence related to the lawsuit. The defendant’s lawyer will ask you questions about the accident and your injuries. Lawyers can ask both detailed and broad questions relating to the civil suit. The other party’s lawyer may make objections if the questions are not relevant or improper.

    The lawyers will discuss the lawsuit before it comes to trial and work toward a settlement. In Canada, more than 95% of civil suits are settled before they get to trial.

  • Trial. Most cases do not get to this stage, since the lawyers usually agree on a settlement prior to this stage of the litigation. However, if your case goes to trial, it is up to you, the plaintiff, to present facts that support the claim against the defendant. You must prove that the defendant is legally responsible or liable. Unlike a criminal trial, where the standard of proof is “beyond a reasonable doubt,” civil cases are decided on “a balance of probabilities.”

    As in a criminal trial, the plaintiff may call witnesses to testify to facts and present evidence. The defendant may cross-examine the plaintiff's witnesses to test their evidence. The defendant then presents his or her own evidence, including witnesses. The plaintiff also has the right to cross-examine.

    If the facts prove what the plaintiff is asserting, the court will rule that the defendant is liable, or legally responsible. The judge (or jury) must consider how to compensate the plaintiff. In personal injury cases, this almost always takes the form of monetary remedies called “damages.” The judge or jury will consider any expenses that the plaintiff has incurred and may also award damages for what the plaintiff has suffered. The judge or jury may award less than the plaintiff asks for, or more. Sometimes courts in Canada award “punitive damages,” which is a large sum of money meant to punish the defendant for particularly bad behaviour.

Personal Injury Lawyers

As you can see, personal injury lawyers are critical to the process of a civil trial. If you have been injured in an accident, you’ll want to make sure that you are working with an experienced and skilled personal injury lawyer. An initial meeting with a personal injury lawyer is free, and these lawyers do not charge up-front fees. Instead, you’ll enter a contingency fee agreement with your lawyer, and they will get a percentage of any compensation that you receive. (This percentage can vary but will be not more than 33%.) A contingency fee ensures that your household budget will not be strained, during a time when it may be difficult for you to work.

Contact a personal injury law firm today and learn more about your situation.