You might have other legal problems at the same time as you're dealing with family law issues. Sometimes it can all start to feel like just too much.
Here are some of the legal issues you might be facing and where you can get legal help to deal with them. Note that you can't get legal aid for these issues.
You've been hurt in a motor vehicle accident
Usually, in BC, if you're hurt in a motor vehicle accident (car crash), you can make a claim for no fault accident benefits, even if the accident was your fault. ICBC pays these benefits for medical treatment and a part of lost wages.
If the accident wasn't your fault, you might also be able to make a claim for compensation (damages). You might get some 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.
Personal injury lawyers usually work on a contingency fee basis and will give you a first meeting for free. This means their fee is based on a percentage of the money they help you get in a court award or settlement. If you don't get anything, the lawyer doesn't charge you a fee. But you usually still have to pay for the lawyer's out-of-pocket expenses for your case, including court filing fees, photocopies, and postage.
Lawyers charge different amounts. Speak to a few different lawyers and ask what they charge before you choose one. To find a personal injury lawyer, ask family or friends, or look online or in the phone book.
See Lawyers' Fees on the Law Society of BC website for more information.
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. It also pays benefits to surviving dependents of a worker who's been killed by injury or disease caused by their work. If you have a WorkSafeBC issue, here are a few places that might be able to help you:
- The Workers' Advisers Office: an independent agency that gives you free advice and help if you disagree with a WorkSafeBC decision. Phone 1-800-663-4261, or see the the Workers Advisers' website.
- The Community Legal Assistance Society: helps workers access benefits and legal protections. See Work-Related Legal Issues for more information.
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 didn't get proper medical care, you can complain to the appropriate organization, such as the College of Physicians and Surgeons. They can look into complaints and discipline doctors but they can't order a doctor to pay you compensation (only a court can do that).
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 this.
You have a residential tenancy issue
The Residential Tenancy Act is the main law in BC that covers landlord and tenant relationships. If you're a landlord or a tenant, here are a couple of places that might be able to help you:
You have credit or debt issues
If you're having problems paying your debts, being harassed by debt collectors, having trouble collecting a debt, or worried about a supplier's business practices, here a few places that could help you:
- Consumer Protection BC: has 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 that offers various services, including credit and debt counselling, debt repayment programs, and information and referral resources.
You or someone in your family has been caught shoplifting
Shoplifting can have criminal law consequences. This means if store security catches you shoplifting, the police might be called and you might be charged with a crime. But often 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 fill in some forms about what happened.
Stores are open to the public but they count as private spaces. That means their owners or authorized operators can refuse entry to anyone they want (unless their reasons violate (break) the BC Human Rights Code. If you steal from a store, or even if you just try to steal from it, store security might give you a Notice Prohibiting Entry. This form says you can't go back into that store for a certain length of time (usually a year). If you do go back in it, you could be charged and fined under the BC Trespass Act.
If you're charged with a crime, call Legal Aid to see if you can get free legal help. If not, call a few criminal lawyers and speak to them about your problem. Criminal lawyers charge very different fees and might have different opinions about your case. Make sure you hire someone who'll listen to what you have to say about your situation and your life story and spend time looking at the evidence in your case.
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 might give you a Notice of Intended Legal Action. Sometime after you receive the notice, the store will mail you a letter demanding payment, usually between $300 and $800. Usually, the store will have the things you stole and isn't claiming their value.
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, a store can sue a shoplifter in court, but it's often not worth it for the store. The amount of money a court would order you to pay is often less than the cost of going to court. But if you're served with (personally given) court documents, don't ignore them. Get legal advice right away (see Where to get legal advice, below).
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 carry on 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 are separate.
Where to get legal advice
- Community legal advocates can provide free legal information, advocacy, and referrals. Find an advocate on PovNet.
- If you qualify financially, you can get free legal advice at legal clinics throughout BC. See Free (pro bono) legal clinics to find out more.
- The Lawyer Referral Service will give you the name of a lawyer for you to talk about your legal problem for $25 plus taxes for the first half-hour.
- The Law Students' Legal Advice Program is run by UBC law students and provides free legal advice and representation on many issues.
If you're feeling overwhelmed, remember there are people who can help you through this hard time.