The Supreme Court of Canada looks at the limitation period applicable to actions of “indirect victims” against municipalities

The Supreme Court of Canada refuses to impose the short limitation period of six months provided for actions against Quebec municipalities and applies instead the three-year limitation period provided in the Civil Code of Québec (CCQ).1

The Court concludes that the limitation period provided in section 586 of the Cities and Towns Act applies neither to the victims who themselves sufferedbodily injury, nor to their family members who institute an action based on this bodily injury.


On October 13, 2017, the Supreme Court of Canada dismissed the appeal instituted by the City of Montréal (City), who raised a limitation period argument regarding an action brought by the family members of a woman murdered by her former spouse, alleging wrongful failure to act by the City’s police officers.

The suit – instituted close to three years after the death – involves two actions, one by the succession on behalf of the deceased victim and the other by the family members for their moral and financial loss following the death.

The City contested the action instituted by the family members on the grounds that it was time-barred under section 586 of the Cities and Towns Act,2 which provides that any action against a municipality is time-barred by six months. However, article 2930 of the CCQ provide that, notwithstanding any law to the contrary, the CCQ’s limitation periods apply “where an action is based on the obligation to make reparation for bodily injury caused to another.”

Although the City agreed that the deceased victim had herself suffered bodily injury (an action subject to the three-year limitation period provided by the CCQ), it contended that the family members themselves had not suffered any bodily injury (which the family members admitted), and therefore they could not avail themselves of article 2930 CCQ. As such, according to the City, the short limitation period provided by the Cities and Towns Act applied to the action of the family members, which was time-barred since it had been undertaken more than six months following the death.

Like the Court of Appeal for Quebec, Wagner J. – on behalf of the five majority judges of the Supreme Court of Canada3 – is of the opinion that the central issue to the appeal is not to determine whether the injury suffered by the family members is of a bodily nature, but rather to know whether their action is "based on the obligation to make reparation for bodily injury caused to another".4 In other words, an action based on the failure of the City to act, having caused bodily injury, would be subject to the limitation period of three years provided by the CCQ.5

In this case, the family members’ action is based on the City’s obligation to make reparation for the interference with the physical integrity suffered by the deceased victim. The family members therefore benefit from article 2930 CCQ and from a limitation period of three years.

Footnote

1 Montréal (City) v Dorval, 2017 SCC 48.

2 CQLR c C-19.

3 Côté and Brown JJ. wrote joint dissenting reasons.

4 Para 15. See also para 26.

5 The decision of the Court is based first and foremost on the wording of article 2930 CCQ, but Wagner J. also takes into account contextual elements and general considerations, in particular that of consistency in the law by imposing the same limitation period to the “direct” victims and “indirect” victims: para 36.


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