Précis: The Quebec Superior Court held, in respect of an event that occurred before s. 140 of the Marine Liability Act was enacted, that the three year limitation period under that section commenced to run on the date s.140 came into force.
Facts: The plaintiff was injured on 4 July 2008 while surf skiing behind his own boat which was being driven by the first defendant. At the time, the plaintiff and first defendant were living together. On 13 June 2012, almost four years after the accident, and one year after the couple separated, the plaintiff commenced these proceedings against the first defendant and against the plaintiff’s own insurance broker, the second defendant. The defendants brought these motions to dismiss the proceedings on the grounds, inter alia, that the limitation period had expired.
Decision: Motions dismissed.
Held: The issue of the applicable law governing limitation periods in a case such as this is a difficult one. In Frugoli v Services aeriens des Cantons de l’Est inc., 2009 QCCA 1246, the Quebec Court of Appeal affirmed that the two year limitation period in s. 14(1) of the Marine Liability Act applied to a claim by dependants of two passengers who were drowned when their boat capsized on a lake in Northern Quebec. On the basis of this case, it is concluded that Canadian maritime law governs the limitation period in the present case. However, as this is neither a claim by dependants nor an accident arising out of a collision between two vessels, ss. 14 and 23 of the Marine Liability Act have no application. The relevant section would be s. 140 which provides a period of three years “after the day on which the cause of action arises”. But, s. 140 was not enacted until 23 June 2009 and became law on 21 September 2009. Therefore, there was no limitation period in effect during the period from the date of the accident, 4 July 2008 to 21 September 2009. The three year period under s. 140 did not begin to run until 21 September 2009 and did not expire until 21 September 2012. This action was therefore commenced within the limitation period.
Comment: The approach adopted by the Quebec Superior Court in this case is different from what is arguably the more traditional approach as discussed in St. Jean v Cheung, 2008 ONCA 815, a decision by the Ontario Court of Appeal. The more traditional analysis distinguishes between retroactive and retrospective statutes. If the new limitation provision extinguishes an existing claim, it is retroactive and will not apply. However, if the new provision merely abridges (or extends) the time left to bring a claim, it is retrospective and will apply. If this approach had been followed in this case, s. 140, which came into force on 21 September 2009, should have been given retrospective effect since it did not extinguish the claim on its coming into force but merely created a new three year limitation period expiring on 4 July 2011. As the plaintiff did not commence proceedings by 4 July 2011, the claim was out of time.