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Civil Litigation - Your Rights in Court

I have practiced civil litigation for over 22 years. See our new website here: www.stewarthouselaw.com

Civil litigation can be broadly described as the pursuit or defence of civil wrongs, most often arising through a breach of contract, breach of a duty or the commission of a “tort”. In many instances, a plaintiff’s claim may have elements of both a contractual breach and a breach of duty or tort.

Breach of Contract
One of the most common forms of civil action is one brought for breach of contract. If your contract has been breached you may have a variety of remedies available to you including suing for damages for that breach and/or a claim for performance of the contract. As a defendant to such a claim, you may dispute that such a breach has occurred. You may also have legitimate complaints concerning the plaintiff’s performance of the contract and be able to counter-claim against the plaintiff for breach of that same contract or some other actionable wrong.

Contractual interpretation is a fine art. You should consider obtaining legal advice before pursuing a claim or accusing another of this wrong. Further, some contractual terms are unenforceable or illegal. The strict wording of a contract does not always create an enforceable obligation because the underlying contract is faulty in some respect.

Breach of Duty and Tort Claims
Our relations are not only governed by contractual relationships. We have duties to fellow members of society (our “neighbours” as the law refers to it). The most common claim based in tort is one brought for negligence. The most typical negligence case is one where you have been injured in an accident because of someone else’s negligence (lack of care). Perhaps you have been injured in a slip-and-fall or car accident. You may also have been deliberately injured in some manner. These are examples of claims which may be exerted against a tort-feasor.

Professionals also owe you a duty of care as your advisors or caregivers. I have acted on behalf of plaintiffs in professional liability claims against lawyers, real estate professionals and health practitioners. I have also defended professionals such as lawyers, accountants and certain health practitioners.

Commercial Litigation
I have acted in a variety of complex commercial litigation matters. Some examples are reviewed below.

Franchise Litigation
Franchise disputes are not only governed by the law of contract but also by duties imposed by statute (the Arthur Wishart Act). This legislation attempts to protect franchisees through disclosure obligations and by providing certain legal remedies against franchisors and their owners/principals. I have acted for and against franchisors in these disputes. These disputes are often fairly complex as a result of the multiple contracts at issue and the legislated duties imposed upon franchisors. If you are a franchisee, it is often a David v. Goliath type of fight. If you are a franchisor, specific legislated obligations can tip the balance in the franchisee’s favour if you have not observed legislated requirements including the duty of good faith and fair dealing.

Shareholder Disputes
Shareholders of corporations often have disputes. Like a divorce, such disputes can become protracted and nasty. It is important to understand your rights as a beleaguered shareholder or as a management team facing such a claim.

Executive Compensation and Wrongful Dismissal
In the field of executive compensation, I have acted for and against large corporations facing claims exerted by ex-senior employees. Often the stakes are high particularly where bonuses, stock options or commissions are at issue.

I also regularly take on wrongful dismissal claims on behalf of dismissed employees against employers. See my wrongful dismissal page for more information.

Estate Litigation
Estate litigation is a growing field of the law. Unfortunately, wills are often amended without the requisite mental capacity of the testator or under the undue influence of predatory relations. There are occasions where estate trustees (executors) misbehave and beneficiaries are excluded from their proper or full entitlements. Should you be concerned about the activities of an estate’s trustee (executor) or whether a member of your family was strong-armed into changing their will imprudently, you should get legal advice. Often wills can be challenged because the testator lacked the mental capacity to change his or her will.

I have acted for and against banks in relation to mortgage and security enforcement, insolvency, bills of exchange matters, fraud and counterfeit claims.

Real Property and Commercial Leases
The purchase and sale of property can give rise to litigation including matters related to the discovery of undisclosed problems after purchase. Commercial leases are also an area I have experience in running trials, both for and against commercial landlords.

When you are defamed there are a whole series of strict rules regarding notice and bringing your claim promptly. You must move quickly. I have acted on behalf of both individuals and large national retail chains in defamation claims.

Aboriginal Law
In the area of aboriginal advocacy, I have worked on numerous cases in the area of treaty litigation. I also act as counsel to Maurice Law out of Calgary, Alberta, on some of the first cases submitted to the Specific Claims Tribunal.

I have brought and defended against injunctions in various civil matters in British Columbia and Ontario. Provided that stringent conditions are met, a litigant can rush to the Court to stop an offensive activity.

Limitation Periods
As a plaintiff, it is important for you to act quickly and assertively. There is a two year limitation period in Ontario. A plaintiff who sits on her rights can be barred from bringing a proceeding if a claim has not been filed in the appropriate Court. The limitation period in Ontario for most claims is now two years. In the area of defamation, the timeframes are very short. You should see a lawyer within days of being defamed if you wish to pursue matters in the Courts. There are other very short limitation periods which most laypeople would be unaware of. Defendants will rely on limitation periods to have your claim struck or defeated if you have waited too long to bring your action.

Armchair experts abound. When faced with a situation where you believe your rights have been breached, it is important to understand your obligations and the correct procedure for asserting your claim on a timely basis.

Contact information

R. David House, B.A., M.E.S., LL.B.
Barrister & Solicitor

Stewart House LLP
House Barrister Professional Corporation
31 Church St.
St. Catharines, Ontario, L2R 3B7

Phone: 1(905)-688-4650
E-Mail:[email protected]
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