Before You Sue
Are there options other than suing?
Before suing, you may give a written demand letter to the other party. This demand letter includes the reasons why the money is owed and a deadline to settle or make payment to you. The letter should also tell the other party that if they do not pay or settle, you might file a Civil Claim in the Alberta Court of Justice Civil Division. In some instances this process works, and you will not need to take the matter to Court.
Demand letters should be dated and include the name and address of the party it was sent to. Keep a copy of the letter for yourself in the event you need to file a Civil Claim and a trial becomes necessary.
Some locations in the Province also have other agencies to help solve problems, such as:
Is there an age requirement to sue?
To commence a Civil Claim on your own you must be 18 years old. If you are under 18, you have to find someone to accept responsibility for the lawsuit including costs. This person is called a "Litigation Representative” and an Affidavit of Litigation Representative must be completed. For more information contact a Court of Justice Office.
What are the time, effort and expenses related to suing?
Pursuing a Court action will take time, effort, as well as expenses.
Time: You will be required to go to the Courthouse during business hours to file your Civil Claim. You will also have to attend all Court hearings and trial dates. If you have to take time off work, you will not be able to include your lost wages in the amount that you are suing for. At the conclusion of the matter, if you are successful, a Justice might award costs for your time and efforts spent to pursue your claim.
Effort: You will need to complete all of the forms, and learn and follow proper Court procedures. There are people in the courthouse who will answer questions and provide information on processes.
Expenses: They may include, but are not limited to:
Filing Fee for a Civil Claim
The filing fees for starting a Civil Claim are based on the amount you are suing for.
$100 for Civil Claims up to and including $7,500
$200 for Civil Claims over $7,500 up to and including $50,000
For more information on fees refer to Filing Fees and Payments into Court.
You may apply to waive the filing fee if you provide financial documents with your application that show you cannot afford to pay. For more information on the fee waiver process and the application form, visit the website Waiving a Filing Fee or contact a Court of Justice Office.
Expenses to serve the Civil Claim upon each Defendant
There are numerous methods of service available when serving the Civil Claim and the cost will vary depending on the method of service used. For more detailed information, review the section called Service of Documents.
Depending how your file proceeds through the court system there may also be expenses related to making Court Applications, Witnesses or Interpreters and any additional costs awarded against you by the Court.
For more detailed information see the Court of Justice Fees Regulation.
Is there a time limit to sue?
In many cases, you cannot sue after a certain period of time has gone by. This is called a limitation period.
Time limits are a complex area of law and you should consult a lawyer if there is any doubt about the limitation period affecting your case. For more resource information refer to Links, Videos and Legal Resources.
The following information is intended to provide a general overview of some types of Civil Claims filed in the Alberta Court of Justice Civil Division and is not legal advice.
For debt claims, such as breach of contract, unpaid loans, damage deposits and rent owing, the time limit is generally two years from the time the debt began. An exception to this rule exists: if the defendant has acknowledged in writing that the debt is still owing, or if a partial payment has been made, the two-year limit starts when the debt was last acknowledged or partially paid.
If you are suing for injuries or damages caused to yourself or your property, for example an assault or a car accident, the time limit is generally two years from the date of injury or damage.
If you wish to sue your own insurance company for failure to pay you as a result of an accident, generally the time limit is one year.
Is there a limit on the amount I can sue for?
In the Alberta Court of Justice Civil Division you can sue for an amount up to $50,000 plus interest and costs. This is the Court's monetary jurisdiction.
If your Civil Claim is for more than the limit of $50,000 you can choose to drop the extra amount, referred to as abandonment, or choose to sue for the full amount in the Court of King's Bench. For more information contact the Court of King's Bench.
What can I sue for?
The legal authority of a Court to hear a case is called jurisdiction. Different Courts have jurisdictions to hear different types of claims.
The following are some types of Civil Claims that can be filed in the Alberta Court of Justice Civil Division:
- Amounts owing for Goods and Services
- Debt Claim
- Motor Vehicle Accident (May include Personal Injury)
- Return of Security Deposit (Damage Deposit)
- Damages to Property
- Personal Injury (Other than Motor Vehicle Accident)
- Payday Loan
- Breach of Contract
- Wrongful Dismissal
- Return of Personal Property (Replevin)
For samples of the above listed types of claims, see the section Filing a Civil Claim.
The following are some types of Civil Claims that cannot be filed in the Alberta Court of Justice Civil Division:
- matters involving ownership of land;
- matters involving wills, malicious prosecution, false imprisonment or defamation (libel and slander);
- criminal conversation or breach of promise of marriage;
- against a Justice, Justice of the Peace or peace officer for anything done by that person while executing the duties of that office, or
- by a local authority or school board for the recovery of taxes, other than taxes imposed in respect of the occupancy of or an interest in land that is itself exempt from taxation.
If the type of claim you want cannot be filed in the Alberta Court of Justice Civil Division, it is likely required to be filed at Court of King's Bench. For more information contact the Court of King's Bench.
Do I need to know where the defendant is?
You should consider the party you want to sue:
- Do you know where the Defendant is?
- You will need to serve the Civil Claim and a blank Dispute Note on the Defendant within one year of the Civil Claim being filed. The Court does not assist you in locating a Defendant.
- If you are successful in receiving a Judgment in the Alberta Court of Justice Civil Division, will you be able to collect?
- The Defendant may not have money or assets now, but financial situations can change. A judgment is valid for 10 years. For more information refer to Judgment and Court Costs.
What evidence do I need?
Any Civil Claim must be supported by evidence. Justices make decisions based on this evidence. If it is just your word against that of the other person, the Justice may have a difficult time deciding in your favour.
Evidence can be in the form of documents, such as letters, bills, contracts, leases, etc. At the time of filing the Civil Claim you do not include your evidence. Having witnesses who can testify about what happened may also be helpful in proving your case. Justices do not have to believe what a witness says. Whether or not a Justice finds a witness believable can play an important part in the final decision. For more detailed information refer to Preparing For Court.
How long does it take to get a judgment or resolve an action?
The amount of time to get a judgment varies based on the type of claim, how quickly you can serve the Defendant and whether or not the Defendant disputes the Civil Claim.
Timelines listed below are general guidelines from the date the Civil Claim is filed where the Defendant is served immediately with the claim and chooses not to file a Dispute Note:
Civil Claims filed for debt claims (for example: loans, invoices)
Default Judgment may be obtained in less than 40 days.
Civil Claims filed for damages claims (For example: motor vehicle accidents, wrongful dismissal)
A Request to Note in Default may be filed and you will proceed to an assessment of damages by way of a hearing or an Affidavit outlining the damages in support of Judgment. A Judgment may be obtained within 45 days.
For more detailed information on processes refer to What Happens After the Civil Claim Has Been Served?
If the Defendant files a Dispute Note, the amount of time varies to get a Judgment.
For more detailed information on what happens to your claim after it is disputed, refer to All The Claims and Disputes Have Been Filed, What Happens Next?.
Getting a Judgment can take several months and it is not the end of the Court process. If the Defendant does not voluntarily pay you the amount awarded in the Judgment, you must then take steps to enforce the Judgment.
The Court does not pay the amount awarded in the Judgment to you and does not assist in enforcing the judgment for you.
There is also no guarantee of collecting the money from any Judgment granted by the Court. If the party you are suing does not have any money, assets or a job, you may not be able to collect your judgment. However, a judgment is valid for 10 years and financial situations change. Consider all of this when you decide if you want to sue.
For more information on Judgments refer to Judgment and Court Costs. For more information on collection proceedings contact the Court of King's Bench.
If I decide I want to sue, what is my next step?
The next step is to start a court action, called a Civil Claim.
For more detailed information it is recommended you read Filing a Civil Claim.