Will Small Claims Court Award Punitive Damages?

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 The desire to punish wrongdoers is universal and as old as humanity. While legal philosophers might wonder whether punishment can have an ultimate justification, courts in Canada have always sought to punish and to deter bad behaviour. Indeed, punitive damages have been awarded for longer than Canada has been a country. But never mind all that. How likely is Ontario Small Claims Court to impose punitive damages in your case?

Not many Small Claims decisions are published by CanLII, unfortunately. Databases in some other jursidictions are more complete. And no, lawyers don't have access to a secret database of decisions hidden from lowly laypeople.

Since the start of the decade, only 79 Ontario Small Claims Court decisions have been published at CanLII (a troubling trend). Among these, punitive damages were sought in nine eight cases (in one, the plaintiff abandoned the claim in their final argument).

Punitive damages were not awarded in any of these cases.

It is surely tempting to punish defendants for egregious behaviour. An obvious example is a group insurer that makes it a habit to refuse disability claims. Clearly, Deputy Judges in Ontario resist the temptation.

For a claim for punitive or exemplary damages to succeed, the Plaintiff's Claim must provide facts supporting it, and it must be pursued to the bitter end. And evidence of the defendant behaving badly might not suffice. The surest way of securing such damages is probably to argue that the community (e.g. its commerce) is threatened by the defendant's extraordinarily unacceptable actions.

An experienced paralegal can help. Get in touch.