Frugoli v. Services Aériens des cantons de L’Est inc.

In Limitation Periods in Maritime Law on (Updated )

This was an action by dependents of two persons who were presumed drowned when the boat they were in capsized. The boat had been chartered and operated by the defendant. The issue was whether the limitation period was the three year period prescribed in the Quebec Civil Code, the two year period prescribed by s. 14(2) of the Marine Liability Act (MLA”) or the two year period as prescribed by Art. 16(2) of the Athens Convention as enacted by the MLA. Due to a mistake by plaintiff’s counsel, the action was commenced more than two years after the accident but less than three years. The Trial Judge reviewed the various authorities and held without much difficulty that the claim should be subject to federal maritime law and not the Quebec Civil Code. The Trial Judge next considered whether it was the two year period in the MLA or the two year period in the Athens Convention that applied and whether the period could be extended. The issue was relevant because Art. 16(3) of the Athens Convention provides that “the law of the court seized of the case shall govern the grounds of suspension or interruption” of the limitation period. The Trial Judge held that the “law of the court seized of the case” meant Canadian maritime law. The Trial Judge then thoroughly reviewed the authorities and ultimately held that there was no discretionary power to extend the limitation period under maritime law except with respect to a collision action governed by s. 23 of the MLA. Finally, the Judge was of the view that in any event an error of counsel was not sufficient grounds for interruption or suspension of the limitation period in the circumstances. On appeal, the Quebec Court of Appeal held that it was “perfectly clear” the matter was governed by Canadian maritime law, that the provincial legislature had no jurisdiction and that the provincial limitation statute had no application. The Court of Appeal next addressed the issue of whether the court had a discretion to extend or suspend the two year limitation period in the MLA and agreed with the Trial Judge that the express inclusion of the discretionary remedy in s. 23 of the MLA dealing with collisions implied, as a matter of statutory interpretation, that there was no discretion for other limitation sections of the MLA. Although this was sufficient to dispose of the appeal, the Court of Appeal went on to consider whether there was inherent jurisdiction to extend the limitation period and held that there was not.