On June 8, 2018, the Supreme Court of Canada dismissed the appeal from a decision of the Court of Appeal of Quebec in an action instituted by Ville de Montréal (the City) against rioters who vandalized patrol cars belonging to the City’s police department. These proceedings dealt with whether rioters are solidarily (which is similar to jointly and severally) liable or not for damage resulting from acts of vandalism.
The facts and judicial history
On the night of April 21, 2008, the Montreal Canadiens eliminated the Boston Bruins in the Stanley Cup playoffs. When the Canadiens won the game, the jubilant fans of the club took to the streets of Montreal to celebrate. As the evening progressed, the gathering turned into a riot during which several patrol cars of the city’s police department were vandalized.
Following an investigation, the City decided to institute one action per vehicle against the rioters identified as having vandalized the vehicle or vehicles in question. Regardless of the nature or seriousness of the wrongful act, the City sought to have the defendants held solidarily liable for the whole of the damage done to the specific patrol car in each of the actions.
The trial judge, Justice Coutlée, J.C.Q., heard all 10 cases, dismissed one of the claims for lack of evidence, found that the defendants in three of the cases had committed a common fault and ordered them solidarily to compensate the city for the whole of the damage done to the patrol car, and ordered the defendants in the six other cases to make reparation for the specific damage caused by their own acts.
The City appealed the six judgments in which the defendants had not all been found solidarily liable. In a unanimous decision, the Court of Appeal affirmed the decisions, which were then brought on appeal before the Supreme Court of Canada.
Solidary liability and article 1480 of the Civil Code of Quebec (C.C.Q.)
Justice Gascon, writing for the majority (Justice Côté was the lone dissenter), began by noting that two cumulative conditions must be met for article 1480 C.C.Q. to apply, that is, 1) it must be impossible to determine which person actually caused the injury, and 2) there must have been a joint participation in a wrongful act which has resulted in injury or separate faults each of which may have caused the injury.2
Regarding the first criterion, Justice Gascon dismissed the City’s argument and found that this criterion applied both to separate faults and joint participation.3 He also found that, unless there was a palpable error, the court should not substitute its assessment for that of the trial judge who, in light of the evidence, found that each of the faults committed by the respondents could be linked to a specific injury and there was no causal connection between the wrongful acts and the total destruction of the patrol cars.4
After going over the case law on extracontractual solidarity, the judge found that the existence of a common intention is required for the concept of joint participation in a wrongful act as provided in article 1480 C.C.Q.5. In this respect, Justice Gascon once again found that there was no reason to intervene with the trial judge’s findings that the respondents did not act with the required common intention, since, apart from some exceptions, they “did not know and were never in contact with one another, and their acts were committed at different times during the riot without the knowledge of the other respondents.”6
Solidary liability and article 1526 C.C.Q.
Regarding article 1526 C.C.Q., the City submitted that the fact the rioters were encouraging one another contributed to a single injury, that is to say, the total destruction of the vehicles, and therefore, the respondents should be solidarily liable for reparation thereof. Once again, Justice Gascon found that there was no reason to intervene with the trial judge’s findings that, in this case, there were “many distinct and identifiable injuries, each caused by a fault that was just as distinct and identifiable,” and not a single injury7. Thus, just as with the first condition of article 1480 C.C.Q., the causal connection between the respondents’ faults and the total destruction of the patrol cars was also lacking.8
The paramount importance of the causal connection
This recent Supreme Court of Canada decision could be seen as reaffirming the central role of causation in the scheme of extracontractual liability. This decision clearly shows which principle prevailed between full reparation of an injury and causation. It now seems clear that the courts would prefer to leave an injury partially unrepaired than order a person to repair the whole of an injury that his/her fault only partially caused9.
The author wishes to thank Charles-Émile Morin, articling student, for his help in preparing this legal update.
1 2018 SCC 29.
2 Id., par. 19.
3 Id., par. 24-38.
4 Id., par. 39-41.
5 Id., par. 63.
6 Id., par. 68-70.
7 Id., par. 75.
8 Id., par. 76.
9 Id., par. 91-92.