Canada: L'obligation De Renseignement Du Donneur D'ouvrage Et La Nécessité De Procéder À Des Investigations Géotechniques

L'obligation de renseignement incombant à l'entrepreneur était autrefois définie largement par les tribunaux comme le devoir de ce dernier de se renseigner sur tous les aspects du contrat et le tenait responsable de toute perte issue d'une situation imprévisible. Cette interprétation fut tempérée au fil des ans et fait aujourd'hui reposer sur les épaules du donneur d'ouvrage une obligation d'informer l'entrepreneur quant aux conditions de sol prévalant au site des travaux à exécuter.

Le 23 mars dernier, la Cour supérieure réaffirmait l'importance de l'obligation de renseignement incombant au donneur d'ouvrage dans la décision 2957-4928 Québec inc. (Clôtures spécialisées) c. Québec (Procureure générale) (Ministère des Transports)[1].

LES FAITS

Le 16 juin 2010, le ministre des Transports du Québec (ci-après « MTQ ») lance un appel d'offres pour la démolition et la construction d'un pont traversant la rivière Beauport. Aucune information géotechnique n'est communiquée aux soumissionnaires. Le contrat est octroyé le 7 juillet 2010 à 2957-4928 Québec inc. (ci-après « l'Entrepreneur ») pour un prix de 224 392,50$ et les travaux débutent le 28 octobre suivant.

Dès le 3 novembre, l'Entrepreneur constate que le fond de l'excavation n'est pas stable en raison de la présence de silt et un géologue est demandé en renfort par l'ingénieur surveillant mandaté par le MTQ. Afin de pallier cette condition, le surveillant émet une directive de chantier modifiant la conception : le coussin granulaire prévu sous le caisson de la culée est remplacé par une dalle de béton armé.

L'Entrepreneur doit revoir ses méthodes d'exécution en ce qu'un autre type de batardeau est requis, nécessitant l'utilisation de palplanches. Les travaux de construction de la culée nord du pont, complétés le 17 décembre 2010, sont exécutés dans des conditions climatiques difficiles en raison de pluies importantes, de l'inondation de l'excavation et du débordement de la rivière Beauport. Des retards importants en résultent.

La construction du pont est complétée le 2 février 2011 et le chantier est suspendu jusqu'au mois de mai 2011 pour la correction des déficiences et la finalisation de certains travaux ne pouvant être exécutés durant l'hiver.

Le 28 juin 2011, l'Entrepreneur met le MTQ en demeure de lui payer 403 519,14$ représentant le solde contractuel et les coûts additionnels découlant des conditions de sol imprévues et du retard.

L'Entrepreneur fonde sa demande sur le défaut du MTQ de fournir de l'information quant à la nature et aux conditions du sol tant à l'appel d'offres que durant l'exécution des travaux. Il allègue notamment que ces difficultés imprévisibles ont rendu l'exécution des travaux décrits aux plans et devis impossibles.

Le MTQ soutient pour sa part que les délais et les coûts additionnels sont dus à la mauvaise planification, organisation et exécution des travaux par l'Entrepreneur et qu'il incombait à ce dernier d'effectuer ses propres vérifications des conditions de sol. Selon le MTQ, une étude géotechnique n'était pas nécessaire vue la présence du pont à démolir à cet endroit qui démontrait la faisabilité du nouveau pont et un simple examen visuel permettait à l'Entrepreneur de prévoir les difficultés rencontrées.

DÉCISION

La Cour supérieure rappelle que l'entrepreneur assume les risques liés aux conditions imprévues à moins que celles-ci résultent d'un manquement du donneur d'ouvrage à son obligation positive de renseignement, une obligation continue qui existe tant à l'appel d'offres que durant l'exécution des travaux.

La Cour conclut que le MTQ disposait de ressources internes en plus de l'expertise de la firme d'ingénieurs mandatée pour la conception et la surveillance des travaux et qu'en conséquence, il a manqué à son obligation de renseignement envers l'Entrepreneur en ne fournissant pas d'étude géotechnique annonçant les conditions rencontrées. La Cour rejette l'argument du MTQ à l'effet que l'Entrepreneur aurait dû procéder lui-même à une étude complexe et coûteuse alors même que les forages effectués par l'expert retenu à l'occasion du litige ne faisaient pas ressortir la problématique des sols. La Cour souligne de plus qu'un simple examen visuel n'aurait pas pu pas permettre à l'Entrepreneur de prévoir ces difficultés.

La Cour reproche aussi au MTQ de ne pas avoir fait face à la situation avec l'Entrepreneur et de ne pas avoir tenté de trouver une solution avec ce dernier au moment de la découverte des conditions de sol qui ne permettaient pas à l'Entrepreneur d'exécuter les travaux suivant les plans et devis.

La Cour conclut que le MTQ ne pouvait pas s'exonérer des conséquences découlant des conditions de sol imprévisibles et retient sa responsabilité pour des coûts additionnels totalisant 120 000 $.

En ce qui concerne les retards, la Cour conclut que l'application stricte par le MTQ de la clause pénale apparait abusive dans les circonstances et que l'Entrepreneur n'est responsable que de 25 jours de retard par rapport aux 66 jours initialement imposés par le MTQ. Le MTQ, qui avait retenu 132 000 $ du prix du contrat, doit ainsi payer à l'Entrepreneur un solde contractuel de 82 000 $.

CONCLUSION

Les donneurs d'ouvrage qui bénéficient d'une grande expertise, tel le MTQ, ont l'obligation de décrire les travaux avec précision pour permettre à l'entrepreneur d'en évaluer les coûts à l'appel d'offres. Cette obligation de renseignement s'étend à l'obtention des données géotechniques nécessaires pour élaborer la conception de l'ouvrage et en permettre la construction suivant les plans et devis, tel que l'enseigne à nouveau cette décision récente.

Footnote

[1] 2016 QCCS 1262, cette décision n'a pas été portée en appel.

Cet article est paru dans l'édition du jeudi 26 mai 2016 du journal Constructo

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