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FAULT - Apportionment of liability - Solidarity

Friday, June 08, 2018 @ 12:59 PM  


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Appeal by the Ville de Montréal (City) from a judgment of the Quebec Court of Appeal affirming a decision finding that Lonardi and the other respondents were not solidarily liable for the damage caused to its vehicles. The Court had to determine to what extent a rioter who caused property damage could be held solidarily liable to the victim for damage done to the same property by other rioters. Numerous acts of mischief were committed during a riot. These included the vandalizing of 15 patrol cars belonging to the police department of the City. The police investigation, helped in particular by photographs and videos, led to the identification and arrest of a number of rioters, including about 20 people who had damaged or destroyed several of the City’s patrol cars. The City decided to institute one civil action per vehicle, with the exception of one action relating to two vehicles that had been damaged by two individuals acting in concert. In each action, it grouped together all the identified rioters who had done damage to the vehicle or vehicles in question. It sought to have the defendants in each case held solidarily liable for the whole of the damage done to the specific patrol car and to its equipment, regardless of the nature or seriousness of the wrongful act each of them had committed. The judge ordered each defendant to make reparation for the specific damage caused by his own acts. However, the judge declined to find the defendants in each action solidarily liable, with the exception of two defendants who had acted together to set fire to a patrol car. He rejected the City’s argument that the defendants had jointly taken part in a wrongful act and were therefore solidarily liable under art. 1480 C.C.Q. The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s judgments.

HELD: Appeal dismissed. It was consistent with the scheme of the Quebec civil liability system to interpret art. 1480 C.C.Q. such that, in every case, solidarity could be imposed only if it was impossible to identify the person who committed the fault that caused the injury. To limit this outcome to cases involving separate faults, while excluding those involving joint participation in wrongful acts from the scope of this provision, would place the provision in conflict with the central role of causation in the scheme of extracontractual liability established by the Code. Where it could be shown which fault caused which injury, however, there was no indication that the legislature had any intention of deviating from the general principle of civil liability that a person was liable for reparation only of injuries caused by his or her own fault. The wording of art. 1480 C.C.Q., the scheme and object of the statute, and the legislature’s intention all suggested that this article applied only where it was impossible to identify the person who committed the fault that caused the injury. Whether a causal connection existed was a question of fact that was not open to review by an appellate court unless a palpable and overriding error had been made in answering it. The City failed to establish such an error. The faults committed by the respondents did not amount to joint participation in a wrongful act if the respondents had no common intention or their faults did not cause a single injury. For two compelling reasons, the respondents could not be found solidarily liable under art. 1480 C.C.Q. First, it was possible to establish a causal connection between each of the respondents’ faults and a specific injury. Second, the faults of the respondents involved in each of the actions instituted by the City did not constitute joint participation in a wrongful act given that the respondents in question did not have a common intention. The injury contemplated in art. 1526 C.C.Q. was subject to the requirement that there be a single injury. The trial judge was right in law in characterizing the respondents’ faults as separate faults rather than as common or contributory faults. Given the finding of fact that each of the faults had caused a specific injury, it was inevitable that the faults would be characterized as being successive and separate. Article 1526 C.C.Q. was therefore inapplicable. It was not appropriate to circumvent the comprehensive legislative scheme governing solidarity in cases of extracontractual fault and to seek to obtain similar effects by way of liability in solidum.

Montréal (Ville) v. Lonardi, [2018] S.C.J. No. 29, Supreme Court of Canada, B. McLachlin C.J. and A. Karakatsanis, R. Wagner, C. Gascon, S. Côté, R. Brown and M. Rowe JJ., June 8, 2018. Digest No. TLD-June42018013SCC