Where can I get help with my other (non-family) legal problems?

Sometimes you'll find yourself facing other legal problems at the same time as you deal with family law issues. Taken all together, they may seem like too much to handle. Below we describe some of the legal matters you might be dealing with and where you can get legal help (Legal Aid isn't available for these issues).

Important: Get legal advice right away about your legal problem so that you don't miss important deadlines.


If you’ve been hurt in a motor vehicle accident

The general law in BC is that if you're hurt in a motor vehicle accident, you can make a claim for "no fault" accident benefits, no matter whose fault it is. ICBC pays these benefits for medical treatment and a part of lost wages. You may also be able to make a claim for compensation (damages) if your injury is another person's fault. Damages include compensation (money) for pain and suffering and, if applicable, for loss of past and future earnings, cost of future care, and out-of-pocket medical expenses.

Many lawyers do personal injury work and will give you a first meeting for free. Personal injury lawyers usually work on a "contingency fee" basis. This means their fee is based on a percentage of the money they recover on your behalf as a court award or settlement. If your claim doesn’t succeed, the lawyer doesn't charge you a fee. However, you usually still have to pay for the lawyer's out-of-pocket expenses for your case, including court filing fees, photocopies, and postage.

Some personal injury lawyers charge different contingency fees than others. It's a good idea to contact a few different lawyers before choosing one. To find a personal injury lawyer, ask family or friends, or look online or in the phone book. For more information about lawyers' fees, see Lawyers' Fees on the Law Society of BC website.

If you have a WorkSafeBC issue

WorkSafeBC can provide return-to-work rehabilitation (therapy) and benefits to people who have an injury or disease caused by their work. WorkSafeBC also pays benefits to surviving dependents of a worker who has been killed by injury or disease caused by their work. If you have a WorkSafeBC issue, the following resources can help:

If you believe your doctor or other medical professional harmed your health and you want to sue

Medical malpractice is a complex and specialized area of law. If you think you haven't received proper medical care, you can make a complaint with the appropriate disciplinary organization, such as the College of Physicians and Surgeons. They can investigate complaints and discipline doctors but can't order a doctor to pay you compensation (only a court can do that).

If you need to do a real estate transfer, dispute a will, incorporate a company, or deal with director or shareholder disputes

Contact the Lawyer Referral Service to find a lawyer who can help with these legal issues.

If you have a residential tenancy issue

The Residential Tenancy Act is the main law in BC that governs landlord and tenant relationships. The following organizations provide informaton and help with landlord-tenant issues:

If you have credit/debt legal issues

If you're having problems paying your debts, being harassed by debt collectors, having trouble collecting a debt, or concerned with a supplier's business practices, the following organizations can help you:

  • Consumer Protection BC provides information about consumer rights and obligations, regulates and licenses certain industries (including debt collection businesses), and enforces consumer protection laws.
  • Credit Counselling Society of BC, a non-profit credit counselling organization, provides various services, including credit and debt counselling, debt repayment programs, and information and referral resources.

If you or someone in your family has been caught shoplifting

Criminal law

Shoplifting can have criminal law consequences. This means if store security catches you shoplifting, the police may be called and you could be charged with a crime. Often, however, the store doesn't call the police and no criminal charges are laid. Instead, store security makes an internal report for their records, and you can leave shortly after they complete some paperwork about the incident.

Though stores are open to the public, they're private spaces, and owners or their authorized operators can refuse entry to anyone they want (unless their reasons violate the BC Human Rights Code). If you try to or do steal from a store, store security may ask you to sign or give you a "Notice Prohibiting Entry." This form says that you're not allowed to enter that store for a certain period of time (usually a year). If you do reenter the store, store security could remove you again and you could be charged and fined under the BC Trespass Act.

Civil law

Shoplifting can have civil law consequences in addition to or instead of criminal law consequences. This means if store security catches you shoplifting, the store can start a civil court action to sue you for their shoplifting costs (their investigation and loss prevention expenses). Before you leave the store, store security may give you a "Notice of Intended Legal Action." Sometime after you receive the notice, the store will mail you a letter demanding payment, usually an amount between $300 and $800. In most cases, the store has recovered the stolen items and isn't claiming the value of the items you took.

Usually you can ignore these civil demand letters if they come in the mail because the store (not you) has to prove the claims made in the letter. Also, though a store can sue a would-be shoplifter in court, it's often not worth the expense for the store. The amount of money a court would order you to pay is often less than the cost of going to court. However, if you're served with (personally given) court documents, don't ignore them. Get legal advice immediately (see below, Where to get legal advice).

Sometimes a civil demand letter arrives after you’ve been charged with a crime. Whether you pay the amount demanded or not doesn't affect whether Crown counsel (the prosecutor) will proceed with the criminal charges or not, or what sort of sentence the criminal court will give you if you're found guilty of a crime. The civil and criminal sides of the matter happen separately.

Where to get legal advice

  • Community legal advocates can provide free legal information, advocacy, and referrals. See the PovNet website to find an advocate.
  • If you qualify financially, you can get free legal advice at legal clinics throughout BC. For more information, see Free (pro bono) legal clinics.
  • The Lawyer Referral Service will give you the name of a lawyer to discuss the legal problem with you for $25 plus taxes for the first half-hour. For more information, see Lawyer Referral Service.
  • Law Students' Legal Advice Program, run by UBC law students, provides free legal advice and respresentation on a variety of issues.
  • See Who can help for more suggestions.

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