Sriram Rangan – April 9, 2016
Particularly in the conduct of legal matters heard in Small Claims Court, the judge is often treated to various and sundry unclear claims which are often devoid of expert opinion. Unfortunately, they are often regaled with evidence that is difficult to understand, let alone to rule upon. Sadly, these circumstances create take up valuable court time to little or no avail. When this happens it usually results in unhappy results on both sides of the claim.
On November 14, 2014, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, Small Claims Court, heard the case of a homeowner (defendant) who had contracted with a company to have her garage door replaced with a new system including three doors, and a door opener. Also part of the contract was that the debris from the project including the old door and its components would be hauled away.
The plaintiff, the garage door company, brought the matter before the court because the defendant homeowner had not paid for the installation. The only money collected for the job was a $2,000 deposit. The balance owed, $2,000.00 was to have been paid upon completion of the work. The plaintiff wanted to see his remaining $2000 paid.
The defendant, on the other hand contended that the work was done in an unsatisfactory manner and that, since the debris from the work had not been removed from her property, the work was incomplete. Because the work, in her opinion, was poorly done in that the doors did not fit properly, nor did the closer work properly, the Defendant sought to regain her deposit.
Neither of the parties was represented by counsel. The evidence provided demonstrated that three doors had, indeed, been installed but no evidence beyond the Defendant’s opinion of the quality of workmanship was provided.
The court, in obvious frustration, included this statement in his decision:
“The manner and way in which the evidence was presented in this case (and I do understand that parties were self-represented) left much to be desired. One of the greatest weaknesses that I have found, certainly on behalf of the Defendant’s Defense and Claim, was that there was no expert evidence called by the Defendant. It would have been most helpful had a person from a company who installed these types of doors would have been called to give his/her opinion with respect to the job done and the various errors and omissions.”
The judge went on to say, “I am left with the somewhat difficult task of trying to sort out and make sense of all of the evidence that was produced. In my efforts to bring fairness, I believe that everyone is going to walk away from their claims unhappy.”
Ultimately, the court granted the plaintiff only $1,000, for the materials and labor expended. This represented the loss of the other $1,000 because of inadequate documentation and poor presentation.
This case points, once again, to the wisdom of consulting a legal professional before launching into your case in court without legal representation.
Few lay-people are trained in the proper development of the facts in a case using evidence, expert witnesses, and images to establish the facts of a matter. When non-professionals, in an attempt to save money by representing themselves, approach the court with insufficient documentation and without an advocate to develop and present the evidence, they take the chance of losing forever the money they wanted the court to grant them or, in the alternative, order them to pay or forfeit.
It is a wise litigant who prepares his/her case with the help of a legal professional such as Vagans Legal Services. A short consultation with someone on our staff could have changed the entire dynamic of this matter. Before you go to court, do yourself the favor of spending some time with a legal professional who can advise you of your rights and assist you in presenting your case to the court adequately and professionally. To do otherwise is almost always a costly mistake.