On Thursday, November 28, 2019, the Supreme Court of Canada is releasing its decision in Transport Desgagnés Inc. v. Wärtsilä Canada Inc. It’s a classic constitutional case: does provincial law or Canadian maritime law apply to the sale of faulty boat parts?
In 2006, Transport Desgagnés bought marine engine parts from Wärtsilä. The parts were delivered and installed in 2007. The engine failed in 2009. Desgagnés sued Wärtsilä for over $5 million in damages. Wärtsilä claimed that the contract between the parties limited its liability in both scope and time. The Superior Court of Québec disagreed and ordered Wärtsilä to fully indemnify Desgagnés. It found that provincial law governed the dispute and that the contractual limitations of liability were rendered inapplicable by the Québec Civil Code’s provisions on warranties. The Court of Appeal (with a judge in dissent) overturned that decision and ruled that Canadian maritime law exclusively governed the dispute. As a result, the contractual limitations of liability were applicable.
Before the SCC, Desgagnés argued that the Court of Appeal erred by assuming Canadian maritime law applied. If the Court of Appeal had applied recent SCC jurisprudence, particularly ITO, it would have found that the disagreement is fundamentally a commercial contracts dispute arising from a breach of the seller’s warranty obligations. Wärtsilä in response argues that Wire Rope v BC Marine and a dozen other cases decided by the SCC between 1979 and 2013 confirm the extensive nature of Canadian maritime law and that there is no question the action here is integrally connected to maritime matters.
On Friday, November 29, 2019, the SCC is releasing its decision in Bela Kosoian v. Société de transport de Montréal. This is the infamous pictogram handrail case. At issue is whether a pictogram can create a rule that you can then be arrested for breaking.
The appellant, Kosoian, was arrested for refusing to hold the handrail while descending an escalator in a subway station in Laval. Kosoian brought an action in damages against the respondents, Société de transport de Montréal, Ville de Laval and the arresting officer. The Court of Québec dismissed the action. It found that the respondents had committed no fault. The majority of the Quebec Court of Appeal reached the same conclusion. Schrager J.A., dissenting, found the pictogram did not have binding criminal force and is instead merely a warning. Although Kosoian was not blameless, he found the Société de transport de Montréal liable.
For a great review, see this summary of the case on TheCourt.ca which explains why the courts are dubious about the view that the pictogram articulates a legal obligation. In terms of SCC decisions for the people, this case is right up there with last year’s #freethebeer decision. The SCC chose not to “free the beer”, but I have more hope for pictograms. I’m going with appeal allowed. (See my disclaimer above about Quebec decisions.) Get your predictions in now!