Ontario: Justice Perell on the interaction of the Insurance Act and the Limitations Act

In Farhat v. Monteanu, Justice Perell provides a typically thorough analysis of the interaction between the Insurance Act‘s section 267.5 threshold provisions and the limitation period.

The plaintiff sued for damages for his non-pecuniary injuries from a motor vehicle accident. The defendant pleaded a limitations defence and the plaintiff moved for partial summary judgment to defeat it.

The defendant ventured a novel defence. She argued that pursuant to section 5(2) of the Limitations Act, there is a presumption that a claimant discovers a motor vehicle accident claim when the accident occurs.  Because the plaintiff’s lawyer stated that the plaintiff’s injuries were serious in correspondence to the defendant eight days after the accident, this presumption was rebuttable only by the lawyer’s direct evidence that he delayed issuing the claim within two years of the accident because he wanted medical confirmation that the serious injury met the section 267.5  threshold.

No case law supported the defendant’s argument, and Justice Perell held that the jurisprudence “about the effect of the threshold on the running of limitation periods stands strongly against” it:

[27]           There is no onus on a plaintiff to prove or show: (a) that the limitation period was considered and a conscious decision made not to commence an action; (b) that a procedure was put in place to review the conscious decision at some reasonable point in the future; and (c) that a decision was made when additional information was obtained and counsel moved expeditiously.

[28]           Whether all this demonstration of what the lawyer must show “ought” to be the case is neither here nor there, because what “is” the case under the law about the running of limitation periods is that when an action is not commenced within two years after the accident the only onus on the plaintiff is to show that he or she could not have discovered the case during the period of delay before commencing the action […].

[29]           Mr. Farhat’s claim is apparently based on chronic pain becoming a permanent serious impairment of an important physical, mental or psychological function. Much to the dismay of insurance companies of defendants, almost invariably, it will take several months to determine whether ongoing pain suffered as a result of an accident is a permanent serious impairment. It will typically, almost invariably, be the case that a plaintiff with only a chronic pain claim will not know that the claim surpasses the Insurance Act threshold until sometime after the date of the accident.


[31]           Given the statutory presumption that a limitation period begins to run from the date of the accident, the onus is on the plaintiff to persuade the court that the seriousness of his or her injury was not discoverable within the applicable limitation period and the plaintiff must also persuade the court that he or she acted with due diligence to discover if there was a cause of action: Yelda v. Vu, 2013 ONSC 4973 (CanLII) at paras. 29-30.

[32]           In Everding v. Skrijel, 2010 ONCA 437 (CanLII), approving Vosin v. Hartin, [2000] O.T.C. 931 (S.C.J.), the Court of Appeal held that in applying the discoverability principle of the Limitations Act, 2002, the court should consider the threshold requirements of the Insurance Act, and the Court of Appeal held that a plaintiff will not have discovered his or her claim before he or she knows they have a substantial chance to succeed in recovering a judgment for damages. A person cannot be expected to commence an action before he or she knows that the necessary elements as set out in the legislation can be established on the evidence: Hoffman v. Jekel, 2011 ONSC 1324 (CanLII) at para. 9.

[33]           In Lawless v. Anderson, 2011 ONCA 102 (CanLII), the Ontario Court of Appeal stated at para. 23:

  1. Determining whether a person has discovered a claim is a fact-based analysis. The question to be posed is whether the prospective plaintiff knows enough facts on which to base an allegation of negligence against the defendant. If the plaintiff does, then the claim has been “discovered”, and the limitation period begins to run: see Soper v. Southcott (1998), 1998 CanLII 5359 (ON CA), 39 O.R. (3d) 737 (C.A.) and McSween v. Louis (2000), 2000 CanLII 5744 (ON CA), 132 O.A.C. 304 (C.A.).

[34]           When a limitation period defence is raised, the onus is on the plaintiff to show that its claim is not statute-barred and that it behaved as a reasonable person in the same or similar circumstances using reasonable diligence in discovering the facts relating to the limitation issue: Durham (Regional Municipality) v. Oshawa (City), 2012 ONSC 5803 (CanLII) at paras. 35-41; Bolton Oak Inc. v. McColl-Frontenac Inc., 2011 ONSC 6657 (CanLII) at paras. 12-14; Bhaduria v. Persaud (1985), 1998 CanLII 14846 (ON SC), 40 O.R. (3d) 140 (Gen. Div.). The limitation period runs from when the prospective plaintiff has, or ought to have had, knowledge of a potential claim and the question is whether the prospective plaintiff knows enough facts to base a cause of action against the defendant, and, if so, then the claim has been discovered and the limitation period begins to run: Lawless v. Anderson, supra at para. 23; Soper v. Southcott (1998), 1998 CanLII 5359 (ON CA), 39 O.R. (3d) 737 (C.A.); McSween v. Louis, 2000 CanLII 5744 (ON CA), [2000] O.J. No. 2076 (C.A.); Gaudet v. Levy (1984), 1984 CanLII 2047 (ON SC), 47 O.R. (2d) 577 at p. 582 (H.C.J.).

[35]           In some limitation period summary judgment motions, it may be necessary to demonstrate the time at which a plaintiff acting reasonably knew about his or her claim, but this motion is not one of those motions. For the purposes of the motions in the case at bar, for Mr. Farhat to rebut the presumption found in s. 5(2) of the Limitations Act, he need only show that he could not have discovered his chronic pain claim during the period between the date of the accident, May 18, 2006 and June 18, 2006 (two years before the date the action was commenced), which I am satisfied he has done.

[36]           Perhaps ironically, because s. 267.5 (5) of the Insurance Act was introduced to eliminate minor personal injury claims, its effect has also been to protect such claims from the running of a limitation period for a period of time commensurate with how long it would take a reasonable person with the abilities and in the circumstances of the plaintiff to have discovered that the threshold for a claim has been surpassed.

[37]           A simple comparison between Mr. Farhat’s automobile accident claim and a slip and fall case demonstrates why the operation of s. 267.5 on limitation periods rankles the insurance defence bar. Visualize, if Mr. Farhat had gotten out of his parked van and slipped and fell on a sidewalk in disrepair, there would be no waiting for a medical report and the limitation period for his occupier’s liability claim would immediately have commenced to run.

[38]           The law, however, for the discovery of slip and fall claims is not affected by s. 267.5 of the Insurance Act. Section 267.5, however, does influence the running of limitation periods for motor vehicle accident non-pecuniary claims.

[39]           No doubt much to the chagrin of the defence bar, s. 267.5 (5) of the Insurance Act introduces some slack into the apparent rigidity of the presumption found in s. 5(2) of the Limitations Act, 2002. A plaintiff, and in some instances his or her negligent lawyer, can take comfort from this slack because the limitation period only begins to run when a sufficient body of information is available to determine whether the plaintiff has a claim that may meet the threshold. In this regard, I adopt the observations of Justice Langdon in Ioannidis v. Hawkings (1998), 1998 CanLII 14822 (ON SC), 39 O.R. (3d) 427 at pp. 433-434 (Gen. Div.), where he stated:

… [N]o one can seriously argue that the decision whether a particular injury meets the statutory criteria is an easy one or, perhaps more important, that it will be easy to predict the outcome of a motion to dismiss a claim which the defendant asserts is unworthy. Even in such a motion, the onus is upon the plaintiff to demonstrate that his or her injuries meet the statutory criteria. When one is seeking to apply the discoverability rule to the plaintiff in a case such as this, it behooves the court to grant a degree of latitude to a plaintiff before declaring that the limitation period has begun to run. … In practical terms, the question is not whether the plaintiff believes that her injury meets the criteria but whether there is a sufficient body of evidence available to be placed before a judge that, in counsel’s opinion, has a reasonable chance of persuading a judge, on the balance of probabilities that the injury qualifies. When such a body of material has been accumulated, then and only then should the limitation begin to run. This is not to say that the plaintiff is entitled to wait until he or she has an overwhelming case. It is only to say that the court must afford a degree of latitude to a plaintiff in making this very individual and complicated determination.

I have one quibble with this otherwise excellent decision.  The statement in paragraph 34 that a plaintiff discovers her claim when she “knows enough facts to base a cause of action against the defendant” is incorrect. A plaintiff subjectively discovers her claim on the date she knows each of the facts listed in section 5(1)(a) of the Limitations Act, including that a proceeding is an appropriate remedy (which is not a fact that bases a cause of action).

For the same reason, while there is a presumption that the limitation period begins on the date of a slip and fall accident pursuant to section 5(2) of the Limitations Act, it doesn’t necessarily commence on that date. It may be that the plaintiff can only reasonably discover that the claim is the appropriate remedy on a later date, and because the section 5(1)(a) criteria are conjunctive, the limitation period will not commence until this later date.  It’s simply wrong to analyse the commencement of the limitation period based on the accrual of a cause of action. (Consider this a second salvo in my fight against on diminishing the impact of Lawless on limitations jurisprudence).

BC: When it comes to death, there is no temporal elasticity (at least for limitation periods)

Generally, the discovery rule won’t extend a limitation period tolled by a fixed event like death; for these limitation periods there is, in the words of the Ontario Court of Appeal, “no temporal elasticity” (See Waschkowski v. Hopkinson Estate at paras. 8 and 9). In Buhr v. Manulife Financial, the BC Court of Appeal affirmed this principle by finding that the discovery rule can’t extend the limitation period applicable to claims against an insurer for death benefits.

Burh claimed against her deceased husband’s insurer for death benefits. On appeal, the insurer argued that the expiry of the limitation period in section 65 of the former Insurance Act barred the claim.

Section 65 provided that “proceedings against an insurer for the recovery of insurance money must not be commenced […] more than 6 years after the happening of the event on which the insurance money becomes payable”.

The Court accepted the insurer’s argument:

[T]he limitation period in this case began to run from the date of Mr. Mattern’s death, regardless of when Ms. Buhr became aware of potential claims. The event on which the insurance money becomes payable, contemplated in s. 65 of the former Insurance Act, is death in cases involving death benefits. The statute designates a fixed event, unrelated to the plaintiff’s knowledge of a cause of action, to start the limitation period, requiring commencement of an action within six years. The discoverability rule does not operate to extend the prescribed period.

In 2012, section 76 of the current Insurance Act replaced section 65. It provides as follows:

76 (1) Subject to subsections (2) and (5), an action or proceeding against an insurer for the recovery of insurance money payable in the event of a person’s death must be commenced not later than the earlier of

(a) 2 years after the date evidence is furnished under section 73, and

(b) 6 years after the date of the death.

The explicit reference to the date of death in section 76(1)(b) means that the discovery rule cannot extend this limitation period. Although the claimant in Buhr evidently required more than six years to bring her claim, six years is three times as generous as the two year limitation period in Ontario’s Trustee Act, which also begins to run from the date of death. I acknowledge that she is unlikely to find this aspect of Canadian limitations jurisprudence consoling.