Recent amendments to Rule 76 of the Ontario Rules of Civil Procedure will help to reduce legal costs and streamline the litigation process in the province.
Claims Under the Simplified Procedure Rule
In Ontario, individuals and businesses may file a civil court claim using what’s known as the simplified procedure in Rule 76 of the Rules of Civil Procedure. The simplified procedure allows parties to move through the litigation process with fewer procedural steps and, as a result, provides a more efficient and less costly framework.
Amendments to Rule 76 were introduced in October 2019 and came into effect as of January 1, 2020. A civil claim of up to $200,000, exclusive of costs and interest, must now be filed under the Simplified Procedure Rule. Prior to January 1, 2020, the limit for filing a claim was $100,000. (Simultaneously, the monetary jurisdiction of the Ontario Small Claims Court has increased to $35,000 from $25,000).
The recent amendments to Rule 76 have also removed the option to opt for a jury trial under Rule 76. A jury trial is only permitted in actions under $200,000 for libel, slander, malicious arrest or prosecution or false imprisonment.
Significantly, trials under the rule are now limited to five days. Pre-trial conferences are also required and must be scheduled within 180 days of the action being set down for trial. At least 30 days prior to the pre-trial conference, the parties must prepare and agree on a trial management plan. A trial management plan is to contain a list of every witness (including every expert witness) and a division of time between the parties that sets out the allotted times for opening statements, presentation of evidence, cross-examination, re-examination and oral argument. The plan must be filed with the court at least five days before the pre-trial conference.
At the pre-trial conference, the judge or case management master will fix the number of witnesses and dates for the delivery of any witness affidavits, set a date for trial, and approve the parties’ proposed trial management plan.
The amendments also increased time limits for each party during examinations for discovery from two to three hours. In addition, all trials are now required to proceed by way of a summary trial. There is no longer an option to proceed by way of an ordinary trial.
Finally, the amendments introduced a limit on costs. A party can no longer recover costs exceeding $50,000 or disbursements exceeding $25,000, exclusive of HST (subject to existing cost consequences).
How are Employers Affected?
The amendments to the Simplified Procedure Rule introduce various steps designed to streamline litigation, reduce costs and overall make it easier for parties to bring lawsuits. An expanded claims limit incentivizes employees to file claims that otherwise would not have been financially feasible or worth the time and costs exposure under the ordinary procedure. Employers will likely find themselves involved in more litigation.
One of the main goals of the amendments to the Simplified Procedure Rule has also been to encourage as many opportunities for the settlement of claims prior to a trial. Parties now have more formal opportunities to settle at various points of the litigation, for example, at the pre-trial conference or while working with opposing counsel to prepare the trial management plan.
A five-day limit for trial also means that both parties will have to make strategic decisions on how to best present their cases, what evidence to bring and which witnesses to call. The new limit on recovering costs may force parties (especially employees with limited financial resources) to forgo expensive tactics, such as calling expert witnesses. This constraint on cost recovery will further incentivize parties to settle.
This is not the first time the government has introduced amendments to the Simplified Procedure Rule with the aim of reducing legal costs and improving efficiency. There is no doubt that it will take years to see what benefits materialize.