Civil Trial Counsel

Steps in a Superior Court Lawsuit in Ontario

Civil litigation refers to legal disputes between private parties. In a civil action, the plaintiff claims a sum of money from the defendant. In a civil application, the applicant requests the Court determine a point of law against the respondent. Actions and applications can result in trials over disputed facts. Below is a brief outline of the main stages in a typical civil action before the Ontario Superior Court of Justice (claims over $25,000), commonly referred to as a lawsuit.

Pleadings – the plaintiff sets out its claim for money and version of the facts in a statement of claim. The defendant sets out its version of the facts in a statement of defence. The plaintiff may reply to new issues raised in the defence.

Discovery – after pleadings are complete, the parties must exchange all documents relevant to any issue. This is known as documentary discovery. As well, parties get to question each other under oath prior to trial. This is known as oral discovery.

Motions – motions can arise at any time to deal with any issue, including repairing pleadings, discovery issues and summary judgment.

Mediation – settlement can occur at any stage. Mediation is an opportunity to have forthright discussions about the merits of the case. Mediation is usually voluntary. In Toronto, Ottawa and Windsor actions, mediation is mandatory.

Pre-trial – a pre-trial conference is held before a Master or Judge in order to canvass settlement, determine readiness for trial, discuss trial issues, identify the witnesses, determine trial procedure and set trial dates.

Trial – at trial, the parties get to present their version of the facts through witness testimony and exhibits. There is an opportunity to cross-examine the other party’s witnesses. The law of evidence governs whether the Court will accept the evidence and for what purpose. Factual submissions are made in opening statements and legal submissions are presented in closing argument.

Judgment – the successful party is awarded a judgment. If the plaintiff is awarded a sum of money, it is their responsibility to collect it. The successful party is usually awarded costs, but this does not mean the other side will pay all of their legal fees.


This article is courtesy of the Ontario Civil Trial Manual

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