Economical Mutual Insurance Company v. Zurich Insurance Company has brought certainty to the limitation of loss transfer claims between insurers. In a loss transfer claim, each Request for Indemnification is an independent cause of action with its own limitation period.
The facts are straightforward. A person was injured in a motor vehicle accident in July 2005. Economical responded to her accident benefits claim and made payments to her. The truck that struck this person was insured by Zurich. Economical provided a Notice of Loss Transfer to Zurich in November 2005. Economical subsequently forwarded four Requests to Indemnification to Zurich in January 2006, February 2008, November 2009, and a final one in December 2011. Zurich didn’t pay. Economical commenced arbitration.
Zurich’s position was that the limitation period had expired. It argued that the limitation period commenced on the date of Economical’s first Request for Indemnification and Economical commenced arbitration more than two years later.
The arbitrator rejected this argument. She relied on the Court of Appeal decision in Federation Insurance Company of Canada v. Kingsway General Insurance Company,  OJ No 1505, in which the Court held that the limitation period for a loss transfer claim runs from the date of the Request for Indemnification, to conclude that each request is a distinct claim subject to its own limitation period, not the limitation period applicable to the first request.
Justice Lederer upheld the arbitrator’s decision. He found that Zurich sought to treat the loss transfer as if it were based on the underlying tort, “the negligence that was the cause of the motor vehicle accident”, when it’s not a tort but a statutory cause of action.
Justice Lederer relied on State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co. v. Dominion of Canada General Insurance Co., a case decided under the old limitation act, for the principle that there is “no reason to apply the principles of limitation that have been developed in the common law of torts” to statutory causes of action. Instead, he reasoned, it’s more appropriate to apply the principles developed in the law of in contract:
The better analogy is to claims in contract, say for the payment of rent under a lease or for some product purchased over time. If a tenant or purchaser stops paying monthly rent or installments and no action is commenced for more than two years after the first payment is missed, it would not be the case that the landlord or the seller would lose out on its ability to sue for every and all future failures to pay. Rather, the entitlement to sue would remain for all payments not made within the preceding two years.
The limitation period should not be applied as it would be in common law torts. The proposition that no new action or claim would have to be commenced is equally true in the analogy to contract claims to which I referred earlier. If a claim is made for a failure to pay rent or to make periodic payments in the furtherance of the purchase of some product, it is unlikely that a new claim would be required for each failure that occurs after an action has begun.
There’s no faulting this conclusion: if each Request for Indemnification is a new cause of action as the Court of Appeal held in Federation Insurance, then each request has its own limitation period. However, the analysis is a surprising reversion to the previous limitation regime. The Court’s consideration of whether a loss transfer claim is better analogised to a claim in tort or contract could almost make a lawyer nostalgic for the days when the classification of an action was the first step in determining the applicable limitation period.
Since 2004, the law hasn’t distinguished between actions that sound in contract, tort, equity, or anything: the Limitations Act, 2002 applies alike to all claims “to remedy an injury, loss or damage that occurred as a result of an act or omission”.
(1) A claim is discovered on the earlier of,
(a) the day on which the person with the claim first knew,
(i) that the injury, loss or damage had occurred,
(ii) that the injury, loss or damage was caused by or contributed to by an act or omission,
(iii) that the act or omission was that of the person against whom the claim is made, and
(iv) that, having regard to the nature of the injury, loss or damage, a proceeding would be an appropriate means to seek to remedy it; and
(b) the day on which a reasonable person with the abilities and in the circumstances of the person with the claim first ought to have known of the matters referred to in clause (a). 2002, c. 24, Sched. B, s. 5 (1).
(2) A person with a claim shall be presumed to have known of the matters referred to in clause (1) (a) on the day the act or omission on which the claim is based took place, unless the contrary is proved. 2002, c. 24, Sched. B, s. 5 (2).
The question under section 5 is when Economical suffered its loss—non-payment of the Requests for Indemnification. This was apparently on the date of the requests. Because the requests are individual losses and not one loss, by operation of section 5(2), the limitation period for each is presumed to have commenced on its date.
Zurich’s non-payment of Economical’s first Request for Indemnification couldn’t have commenced the limitation period for subsequent requests, because Economical couldn’t have suffered a loss for non-payment until it made the request (assuming, as appears to have been the case, that it doesn’t follow from the non-payment of one request that the insurer won’t pay the subsequent requests).
A first party-party insurer like Economical could of course rebut the section 5(2) presumption and argue pursuant to section 5(1) that it discovered its loss on a later date . For example, a first-party insurer may only disover that the second-party insurer won’t pay a request sometime after the request is made (see G.J. White Construction Ltd. v. Palermo (1999), 7 C.L.R. (3d) 13).
It’s anyone’s guess why the Court rejected a section 5 analysis in favour of the old classification of actions approach. My theory is that counsel are very fond of The Law of Limitations and insist on using it until there is a new edition, which, thankfully, is forthcoming.