Ontario: some pedantry in response to the Court of Appeal decision in Rumsam

The Court of Appeal’s decision in Rumsam v. Pakes overturned the motion judge’s order granting the plaintiff leave to add a doctor as a defendant to the proceeding.  The doctor had opposed the motion on the basis of an expired limitation period.  The motion judge found the proceeding timely.

The Court’s conclusion seems right to me, but it contains some statements of law that are problematic and require comment.

First, there is this description of s. 5(1)(b):

[30]      As of August 29, 2013, Ms. Rumsam was obliged to exercise reasonable diligence to secure the name of the second doctor to satisfy the requirement in s. 5(b) [sic] of the Limitations Act that a “cause of action arises for the purposes of a limitation period when the material facts on which it is based have been discovered, or ought to have been discovered, by the plaintiff by the exercise of reasonable diligence” (emphasis added): Lawless, at para. 22.

This is not an accurate description of s. 5(1)(b).  That section provides that discovery occurs “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)”.

What paragraph 30 describes is common law discovery.  Discovery as codified in s. 5(1)(b) differs from common law discovery in two material ways.  First, the knowledge required by s. 5(1)(b) isn’t the material facts of a cause of action, but the four discovery matters in s. 5(1)(a); while these may accord generally with some causes of action, they don’t accord with many others (like breach of contract, which doesn’t have “injury, loss or damage” as a material fact.  Second, the knowledge is modified-objective, not purely objective; it’s the knowledge of a reasonable person with the abilities and in the circumstances of the plaintiff.

It’s unfortunate that the Court of Appeal continues to treat common law discovery as the same as statutory discovery.  Relatively recent Court of Appeal jurisprudence distinguishing the “claim” form the “cause of action” has been promising (see Apotex and Gillham Bay), but apparently without the impact one might have hoped for.

Then there is this summary of conclusions:

[33] In conclusion:

1. A claim must be brought within two years of a claim being “discovered”.

2. A claim is discovered when the claimant first knew the injury occurred, that it was caused by an act or omission, that the act or omission was caused by the person against whom the claim is made, and that there was loss.

3. The injury was sustained on July 11, 2007, so normally the limitation period would have expired on July 11, 2009.

4. Given that Ms. Rumsam did not turn 18 until June 4, 2010, the presumptive limitation period did not begin to run until that date.

5. The limitation period would have expired on June 4, 2012, but for the discoverability principle.

6. By August 29, 2013 at the latest, Ms. Rumsam knew all of the material facts except the name of the “second clinic physician” in question.

7. By August 29, 2013 at the latest, she was required to exercise reasonable diligence to get the name within the two-year period as she knew she likely had a claim against this person for her injuries, and August 29, 2013 was “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” as set out in s. 5(1)(b) of the Limitations Act.

8. The onus to prove reasonable diligence is on Ms. Rumsam.

9. She failed to exercise reasonable diligence as no steps were taken for at least a year.

10. As such, as the court held in Safai, there is no basis to extend the limitation period for more than two years as, from August 29, 2013, Ms. Rumsam knew of the likely claims and was in a position to ascertain the name by reasonable diligence.

Let’s go through the issues.

  1. A claim must be brought before the expiry of the limitation period, not within two years of discovery. Discovery causes the limitation period to commence, but it’s not determinative of its expiry.  There are multiple circumstances in which the limitation period will stop running—for a example a tolling agreement—so that it will expire more than two years from its commencement.
  2. Discovery does not require knowledge that an injury has occurred and that there was a loss, because for limitations purposes in injury and loss are effectively the same thing. There Limitations Act always refers to “injury, loss or damage”; “injury” never has a separate function from “loss” (which prompts the question why the act uses this language–I suspect it was intended by the drafters to signal that the act applies to all causes of action regardless of whether they require damage to be actionable).  In any event, all that discovery requires with respect to damage is knowledge that “injury, loss or damage” has occurred, so knowledge of injury or loss alone will suffice.
  3. There is no presumptive limitation period. There is basic limitation period in s. 4 that commences presumptively on the date of the act or omission that gives rise to the claim pursuant to s. 5(2). This is because of the “discoverability principle”, not despite it.  Section 5(2) creates a presumption that discovery occurs on the date of the act or omission, which the plaintiff can rebut.  The s. 5 discovery provisions always determine the commencement of the basic limitation period.