Isen v. Simms

In Admiralty Jurisdiction on (Updated )

The Defendant was injured when a bungee cord that was being used to secure the engine cover of a small pleasure boat slipped from the hands of the Plaintiff shipowner and struck the Defendant in the eye. At the time of the incident the pleasure boat had just been removed from the lake and was on a trailer being prepared for road transportation. The Defendant commenced proceedings against the Plaintiff in the Ontario Supreme Court for damages in excess of $2,000,000. The Plaintiff commenced this action in the Federal Court to limit his liability to $1,000,000 and brought this application under Rule 220(1)(c) of the Federal Court Rules to determine a question of law, namely: whether the facts and circumstances constituted “claims arising on any distinct occasion involving a ship with a tonnage of less than 300 tons” pursuant to section 577(1) of the Canada Shipping Act. The Defendant contested both the jurisdiction of the Federal Court and the substantive relief sought. The Federal Court and the Federal Court of Appeal both held that the claim was a maritime law claim that was subject to the limitation of liability. On appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada, the Supreme Court held that the matter was governed by provincial law, that the Federal Court was without jurisdiction and that the limitation was not applicable. In reaching this conclusion Rothstein J. noted that Parliament did not have jurisdiction over pleasure craft per se and that the Court must look at the allegedly negligent acts “and determine whether that activity is integrally connected to the act of navigating the pleasurecraft on Canadian waterways such that it is practically necessary for Parliament to have jurisdiction over the matter”. Although he agreed with the Federal Court of Appeal that launching of pleasurecraft and their retrieval from the water would be within Parliament’s jurisdiction over navigation, he did not agree that the securing of the engine cover with a bungee cord was part of the retrieval process. He stated that the securing of the engine cover had nothing to do with navigation and everything to do with preparing the boat to be transported on provincial highways.