Gaudet v. Navigation Madelaine Inc.

In Carriage of Passengers by Sea on (Updated )

Précis: The Quebec Superior Court held that the provisions of the Quebec Civil Code could apply to extend the limitation period in the Athens Convention, although the court did not do so in the circumstances.

Facts: The plaintiff was a passenger on board the defendant’s vessel and was injured when a door closed on his index finger. The accident occurred on 12 March 2011. The plaintiff subsequently commenced proceedings in the Quebec Superior Court against the defendant on 4 December 2013, more than two years after the accident. The defendant brought this application to dismiss the claim on the grounds that the limitation/prescription period had expired.

Decision: Application allowed and claim dismissed.

Held: The plaintiff’s claim is governed by Canadian maritime law. Article 16 of the Athens Convention stipulates a two year limitation/prescription period from the date of disembarkation for claims for the death or injury of a passenger. The plaintiff argues that the three year limitation period in s. 140 of the Marine Liability Act applies or, alternatively, that the provincial limitation period applies pursuant to s. 39 of the Federal Courts Act. However, these provisions only apply if there is no specific prescribed limitation period. Here there is a prescribed period namely, the two year period in the Athens Convention. The plaintiff further argues that the limitation period should be extended or interrupted because he was not able to fully quantify his claim until he received his expert assessment on 14 November 2013. Article 16(3) of the Athens Convention provides that issues of suspension or interruption of the limitation period are to be governed by the law of the court seized of the case and Art. 2904 of the Civil Code provides for suspension/interruption of limitation periods in limited circumstances. However, ignorance of the exact extent of the damage is not a grounds for suspending a limitation period.

Comment: The holding in this case that Art. 2904 of the Quebec Civil Code could apply to extend the limitation period is questionable. Cases to the contrary include: MacKay v. Russell, 2007 NBCA 55; Frugoli v. Services aeriens des Cantons de l’Est inc., 2009 QCCA 1246; and Malcolm v. Shubenacadie Tidal Bore Rafting Park Limited, 2014 NSSC 217.