6362222 Canada Inc. v. Prelco Inc., 2021 SCC 39: A Victory for Limited Liability Clauses
In general, limitation of liability clauses are valid in both Quebec’s Civil system and in the Common Law provinces. However, in Quebec limitation of liability clauses are tempered by articles in the Civil Code of Quebec prohibiting the exclusion of liability for intentional fault, bodily injury, and other public order issues. A recent Supreme Court of Canada case has strengthened the power of limited liability clauses and narrowed the applicability of the Breach of Fundamental Obligation Doctrine.
The case centered on a contractual dispute between 6362222 Canada Inc. (“Createch”), and their client, Prelco Inc. Createch is a consulting firm offering integrated management systems and performance improvement solutions. The parties entered into a contract which included a limited liability clause, stipulating that Createch’s liability to Prelco for damages for any cause whatsoever would be limited to amounts paid to Createch under the contract. A further stipulation was that Createch could not be held liable for any damages resulting from the loss of data, profits or revenue, from the use of products, for any other special, consequential, or indirect damages relating to services and/or material provided pursuant to the contract.
Two years into the contract, Prelco opted to terminate the relationship due to numerous problems with the system and Createch’s implementation. Prelco brought an action against Createch for $6,246,648.94 in damages for the reimbursement of an overpayment, costs for restoring the system, claims from customers, and loss of profits. The Superior Court found the limited liability clause to be unenforceable as it went to the essence of a fundamental obligation, and as such ordered a substantial judgment against Createch. The Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal.
The Supreme Court allowed the appeal, stating that the test for unenforceability due to the Doctrine of Breach of a Fundamental Obligation had not been satisfied. In order to find a clause inoperable on this basis, the validity of the clause has to either (a) be contrary to a public order limitation or (b) deprive a contractual obligation of its purpose. The SCC found that the clause did not run contrary to a public order limitation and that since Createch still owed significant obligations to Prelco the validity of the clause would not deprive the contract of its purpose to the extent required by the Doctrine. As such, the principle of freedom of contract supported the enforceability of the limited liability clause.
Takeaway: if you are contracting with a party that is insisting that there be clauses within the contract whereby they are excused from any liability, even for their own negligence, be aware that a Court will probably uphold the limitation of liability clause in the contract. In such a situation, you should consider the extent to which you can insure over the risks that flow from the contracting party’s negligence.