The Quebec Court of Appeal's decision in SNC-Lavalin
inc. v. Société québécoise des
infrastructures (Société immobilière du
Québec)1 is significant for
construction law in more than one respect. It is the first time, to
our knowledge, that a general contractor, an architect and an
engineering firm (a soil-testing laboratory) have been absolved of
all liability towards a project owner in a situation where a
building had, without question, a serious defect that threatened
its very viability. The five-year legal warranty period of course
applied to all involved but nevertheless, despite some strong
presumptions, they were able to avoid its application. It is also,
to our knowledge, the first time in construction law matters since
the coming into force of the current Civil Code of
Québec (the "CCQ") in 1994, that the argument
to the effect that a subsequent fault by a professional absolves
another professional of all legal liability (an argument known as
novus actus interveniens) has been successfully
Let's review the facts: a new annex of a hospital in
Trois-Rivières began to sag dangerously shortly after it was
first occupied. Remedial work costing some $6 million was required.
Its owner, the Corporation d'hébergement du
Québec sued the architect, the general contractor, the
soil-testing laboratory and the structural engineer. The architect
and the general contractor succeeded in rebutting the presumption
of liability under Article 2118 CCQ by proving they had committed
no fault. The problem was structural in nature and involved the
bearing capacity of the land on which the structure was built. The
soil-testing laboratory also escaped all liability by successfully
arguing that even if it had made an error, its recommendations were
not followed by the structural engineer, such that the latter
should be found solely liable.
The Court of Appeal has thus confirmed that the five-year legal
warranty under Article 2118 CCQ is not an obligation of result from
which it is impossible to exonerate oneself.
1 2015 QCCA 1153
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