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CIVIL PROCEDURE - Actions - Availability - Right of action

Monday, April 03, 2017 @ 11:42 AM  

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Appeal by Godbout from a judgment of the Quebec Court of Appeal setting aside a decision concluding that her civil action against the medical staff who treated the injuries she had suffered in an automobile accident was admissible and appeal by Gargantiel from a judgment of the Quebec Court of Appeal affirming a decision that dismissed his claim against Sûreté du Québec officers who were allegedly negligent in searching for the crashed vehicle he was in. Godbout and Gargantiel were both seriously injured in automobile accidents and were compensated for the whole of their injuries by the Société de l’assurance automobile du Québec (SAAQ) under the Automobile Insurance Act (Act). In separate actions, they sought reparation for the injuries caused by the alleged subsequent faults of third parties. Godbout was involved in a serious automobile accident in January 1999. She was treated by Pagé, an orthopaedic surgeon, and the other respondents. After suffering from advanced compartment syndrome and muscle compartment necrosis that led to amputations following the surgery, Godbout filed a motion to institute proceedings against them for failing to act in accordance with good practice in treating her and causing separate injuries that had not been suffered in the automobile accident. The trial judge concluded that s. 83.57 of the Act did not preclude her action, but the Quebec Court of Appeal allowed the appeal and set aside the trial judge’s decision. In October 2009, Gargantiel lost control of his automobile. Even though the OnStar company, having located Gargantiel’s vehicle by satellite, contacted the Sûreté du Québec’s call management centre and provided it with the GPS coordinates of the vehicle, officers were unable to locate it and decided to give up the search. Gargantiel was found by a passerby 40 hours after the accident with severe hypothermia and other serious bodily injuries that led to the partial amputation of his leg. He claimed damages from the Attorney General of Quebec (AGQ) for injuries linked to the negligence of the officers who had participated in the search for his car. The trial judge granted the AGQ’s motion to dismiss, and the Court of Appeal dismissed Gargantiel’s appeal. The Supreme Court of Canada considered whether a person injured in an automobile accident who was eligible to receive compensation under the Act but whose condition was aggravated as a result of a fault committed by a third party could bring a civil action against the third party to seek compensation for bodily injury resulting from that subsequent fault.

HELD: Appeal dismissed. The main issue in the appeals was whether the Court of Appeal erred in law in concluding that s. 83.57 of the Act barred the actions in damages brought by Godbout and by Gargantiel, who alleged that the parties against whom they brought those actions had committed faults that had caused them “separate” bodily injury. The characterization of the injury was not central to the resolution of the main issue given the nature of the appropriate causal link in the context of the application of the Act. Although the use of the word “causé” in the French version of the Act evoked the conceptions of causation that applied in the law of civil liability under the Civil Code of Québec, the appropriate causal link in the context of the compensation scheme established by the Act could not be derived from it: it was sui generis in nature. The interpretation of the word “caused” and thus the analysis of the appropriate causal link in the context of the Act called for a large and liberal approach. The test that was to be applied was that of a plausible, logical and sufficiently close link between the injury and the accident. Thus, a fault committed by a third party between the time of the accident and that of the victim’s full recovery would not suffice to break the chain of causation, provided that the link remained plausible, logical and sufficiently close. The Act would cover the whole of the injury in such a case. The fact that the injury in question had an “aggravated” or “separate” aspect that could be attributed to events that occurred subsequently to the automobile accident was immaterial. The Court of Appeal did not err in interpreting the language of the Act and applying it to the facts of these appeals. In the two cases, the bodily injury that resulted from the alleged fault or negligence of third parties was suffered in the automobile accidents of which Godbout and Gargantiel were the victims. It originated in a series of events that had a plausible, logical and sufficiently close link to one another and had, in each case, the automobile accident as their starting point. It was unnecessary to elaborate on the subject of a presumption of waiver of a right of action and on its application in the present cases, given that there was no right to bring an action. When an accident victim was found to be eligible for the benefits provided for in the Act as compensation for bodily injury caused by an automobile, the bringing of any civil action was prohibited. It was nonetheless wrong in law for the Court of Appeal to presume that a waiver had occurred when Godbout and Gargantiel accepted compensation payments from the SAAQ. No intention to waive had been proven in Godbout’s and Gargantiel’s cases. The appeals were dismissed with costs.

Godbout v. Pagé, [2017] S.C.J. No. 18, Supreme Court of Canada, McLachlin C.J. and Abella, Karakatsanis, Wagner, Gascon, Côté and Brown JJ., March 24, 2017. Digest No. TLD-Apr32017001