Recently the Ontario Government increased the cost of many Court filing fees. Notably, the cost of filing a Trial Record in the Ontario Superior Court doubled from $405 to $810. Like a cruel and ironic April Fool’s joke, the increased fee schedule will be implemented on April 1st, 2019. I cannot recall any form of debate or consultation that went in to increasing. If are seeking out the legislation with the increased court filing fees, you can find it by clicking the link here.
Imagine that: $810 just to have your case placed on the trial list. This does not take in to consideration the cost of filing a statement of claim ($229), the cost of filing a motion record ($160) , the cost of a Jury Notice ($130), or the costs of any summonses to witness ($30 each).
So: If you want to have a civil jury trial in a personal injury case, whereby you bring 2 motions, the cost in court filing fees alone for a Plaintiff would be $1,359 plus the costs of summonses at $30 each. This does not take in to consideration the filing costs for a Defendant; nor does it take in to consideration the cost of legal fees, HST on legal fees, or disbursements (faxes, photocopies, medical records, police reports etc.)
Lesson: Litigation is expensive and access to the Courts is reserved for the wealthy.
It’s en vogue to TALK about access to justice. It makes a lawyer look righteous and caring. Lawyers who work in giant office towers in downtown Toronto talk about access to justice. Benchers seeking election or re-election at the Law Society of Ontario love talking about access to justice. People who work with or directly for for the Law Society speak fondly and passionately about reducing barriers to access to justice. But words from lawyers can be a bunch of hot air. The majority of lawyers get paid by the word they write, by the word they speak, by the word they read, or by the word they translate/re-arrange in to something coherent. Don’t believe me? Try sitting in on an Examination for Discovery where the lawyer for the insurance company is getting paid by the hour. The more words spoken, the longer the time spent and the more billings can be made. And in the industry, those discovery hours are what we call “pure billable hours“. There’s no undercutting those discovery rates or those discovery hours because they can’t be disputed. So putting stock in the words from lawyers regarding access to justice as opposed to putting faith in their actions gives me little hope for reducing those barriers which ordinary, everyday people see.
Personal Injury Lawyers have been reducing barriers to access to justice for decades. We take cases on a contingency fee basis; meaning the client won’t pay any legal fees unless the lawyer wins the case.
The ensures a few things:
- The client has free access to the Court system to pursue their case. The client pays ZERO until the case settles, or wins at trial. I can think of no other area of the law where this is as important, or as predominant as the field of personal injury law. Without contingency fee based agreements, insurance companies would get their way.
- The contingency fee lawyer has to be very very good at their job. If they aren’t very very good, the client won’t get paid. And if the client doesn’t get paid, the lawyer won’t get paid. Only the strong will survive
- The client and the lawyer are in the fight together as a team. The more money the lawyer gets for his/her client, the more money the lawyer gets to recover in fees. It’s a win-win for both lawyer and client. Win-win is always a good thing.
You don’t see family lawyers advertise that they will take on cases on a don’t pay unless the case settles basis. You don’t see estate lawyers, commercial lawyers, environmental lawyers, entertainment lawyers, patent lawyers, estate lawyers, real estate litigators etc. advertise their services this way either. Part of it is legislated, part of it is pure economics. Either way, the only real base of lawyers who are providing access to justice EVERY DAY in the CIVIL COURT SYSTEM ARE PERSONAL INJURY LAWYERS.
Without the access to justice which personal injury lawyers provide on a daily basis to the public, deep pocketed insurance companies would steam roll innocent accident victims who don’t have the means to afford a lawyer; let alone to pay the skyrocketing Court filing fees. How else would an individual be able to fight a multi-million dollar, multi-national corporation in Court.
This analysis also doesn’t take in to consideration the amount of money which an insurance company is allowed to spend fighting a case. If a case has a max value of $50,000; there is nothing stopping an insurance company to spend $5,000,000 in legal fees, expert reports, surveillance, etc. on this smaller $50,000 issue. In litigation, the party with deepest pockets can grind out their opposition in litigation. Lawyers who provide access to justice, such as contingency fee lawyers in personal injury cases not only give their clients their day in Court; but also neutralize the monetary imbalance between the injured Plaintiff and multi-million dollar insurance Defendant.
So, when you hear all this beautiful and glorious talk about access to justice, the acknowledgment from high above that access to justice a real problem, and regarding barriers to access to justice, think of a few things:
- They hypocrisy of the Ontario Government doubling Court filing fee for civil trial records from $405 to $810 when it’s widely acknowledged that access to justice and rising litigation costs are a real problem
- Personal Injury Lawyers don’t get the credit they deserve for championing the rights of innocent accident victims. Personal Injury Lawyers represent access to justice.
- The majority of innocent accident victims would not have access to the Courts if personal injury lawyers did not take their cases on a contingency fee basis
Devil’s Advocate: Ever get the feeling that the government does NOT WANT TO FOSTER ACCESS TO JUSTICE? The increase of Court filing fees was meant to deter litigants of lesser means from bringing cases to Court such that the Courts are only reserved for the wealthy and privileged class of individuals and corporations who can afford it.