Langlois v. Great American Insurance Company

In Marine Insurance on (Updated )

Précis: The Quebec Superior Court held that there was a right of direct action against the insurer of a ship repair yard under the provisions of the Civil Code.

Facts: The plaintiff’s fishing boat was damaged by fire while it was being repaired/welded at a ship yard. The plaintiff’s boat was insured by the defendant, GAIC, who was also the liability insurer of the shipyard. GAIC assigned an adjuster who obtained several quotes to repair the damage caused by the fire but no agreement was reached between the plaintiff and GAIC as to the extent of the damage and necessary repairs. The plaintiff later hired his own surveyor whose estimate of damage and repairs was approximately twice that of GAIC’s adjuster. GAIC then retained another surveyor for yet another estimate and submitted a cheque to the plaintiff in the amount of $781,000 “as full and final payment”. The plaintiff commenced this action against both GAIC and the shipyard.

Decision: Judgment for the plaintiff.

Held: The first issue is whether the applicable law is Canadian maritime law or the Quebec Civil Code. As was held in Triglav v. Terrasses Jewellers Inc, [1983] 1 SCR 283, Canadian maritime law applies to contracts of marine insurance and, therefore, the Civil Code is not applicable to that part of the claim against GAIC. However, as to the claim against the ship yard and GAIC as its insurer, the applicable law is the Civil Code because the repairs were being done on dry land and there were no navigation or maritime operations involved. The plaintiffs therefore have a direct cause of action against GAIC as the liability insurer of the shipyard pursuant to articles 2501 & 2628 of the Civil Code. With respect to the amount the plaintiff is entitled from GAIC under his own insurance policy, the plaintiff is entitled to an additional $69,000. With respect to the liability claim, there is a strong presumption that the shipyard is liable given the fire started while welding was being done and this presumption has not been rebutted.

Comment: (1) This decision is reported in French only and the summary is based upon a translation that may be imperfect. (2) The holding that the liability claim against the ship yard is not subject to Canadian maritime law is doubtful. Since Wire Rope Industries v B.C. Marine Shipbuilders, [1981] 1 S.C.R. 363, there has been no doubt that contracts and torts involving ship repair are subject to Canadian maritime law. However, this would not necessarily mean that articles 2501 and 2628 of the Civil Code would not apply. They may well apply incidentally pursuant to the double aspect doctrine.