Canada: La Fin Des Travaux Demeure Une Question De Faits

Il est bien établi que l'entrepreneur qui souhaite intenter un recours en justice pour réclamer des dommages découlant d'un contrat de construction, dispose d'un délai de trois ans pour ce faire à compter de la date de fin des travaux. S'il omet d'intenter son recours dans ce délai, la loi prévoit que son droit d'action s'éteint, c'est le principe de la prescription.

Dans notre chronique du 7 septembre 2016, nous vous avons justement fait état d'un jugement récent rendu dans l'affaire Construction Socam ltée c. Corporation d'hébergement du Québec1, où la Cour supérieure du Québec a rejeté le recours d'un entrepreneur intenté plus de trois ans après la fin des travaux. La détermination de cette date est donc capitale puisque c'est elle qui constitue le point de départ du calcul de ce délai.

Le 21 septembre dernier, dans l'affaire Consortium G.A.S. c. Hôpital général du Lakeshore2, la Cour s'est à nouveau prononcer sur cette question. Or, à la lumière des particularités de ce cas, la Cour a conclu que le recours de l'entrepreneur n'était pas prescrit.

Les faits

L'Hôpital général du Lakeshore (l'Hôpital) et l'entrepreneur, Consortium G.A.S. (GAS), sont parties à un contrat d'entreprise visant l'agrandissement et la modernisation du centre ambulatoire de l'Hôpital. Les travaux de GAS se déroulent de 2000 à 2003. Le 21 juillet 2006, GAS intente un recours contre l'Hôpital afin de réclamer 9,6 millions de dollars résultant de changements apportés lors de l'exécution des travaux et du prolongement du contrat. L'Hôpital s'oppose en invoquant la prescription du recours puisqu'il situe la fin des travaux au plus tard le 11 juillet 2003. De son côté, GAS prétend que c'est la réception provisoire des travaux qui doit être retenue, soit le 4 août 2013, comme point de départ du calcul du délai et que son recours est donc recevable.

Le droit

Selon la Cour, la date de fin des travaux correspond au moment où tous les travaux prévus au contrat ont été réalisés dans les faits, sans égard à leur valeur, leur envergure ou la définition donnée à cette expression dans les documents contractuels. Dans le cadre de cette détermination, la Cour précise qu'il ne faut pas tenir compte des travaux de correction de déficiences.

Ainsi, la Cour retient que deux principes important se dégagent pour établir cette date:

  1. pour que l'ouvrage soit considéré comme exécuté et que la fin des travaux soit atteinte, tous les travaux prévus au contrat, et donc aux plans et devis s'il en est, doivent être exécutés dans leur intégralité, même les travaux mineurs ou accessoires; et
  2. par contre, il importe de distinguer entre les travaux non exécutés et ceux qui sont mal exécutés – les malfaçons ou « déficiences ». La réparation de ces derniers ne retarde pas la fin des travaux au sens du Code civil du Québec.

Suivant son analyse de la preuve, la Cour conclut qu'en date du 21 juillet 2003, il restait encore des travaux à réaliser par GAS pour que l'ouvrage soit exécuté, notamment :

  • l'installation d'un ordinateur intégrant un logiciel spécifique en lien avec le système d'alarme incendie selon les spécifications décrites au devis;
  • des travaux reliés à l'alimentation en eau purifiée et les analyses d'eau exigées par le devis;
  • des essais et du travail de calibrage, d'équilibrage ou balancement requis par le devis; et
  • l'installation de garde-corps et celle de bollards flexibles.

Par ailleurs, même si l'Hôpital a fait valoir plusieurs indices qui tendraient à démontrer que la fin des travaux est atteinte préalablement au 11 juillet 2003, dont notamment l'occupation et l'utilisation fonctionnelle du bâtiment, la tenue de la dernière réunion de chantier le 29 mai 2003 et l'insistance de GAS, à partir du début juin 2003, pour que l'acceptation provisoire soit autorisée et que le certificat de réception provisoire soit délivré, la Cour a tout de même conclu que le recours de GAS n'était pas prescrit.

Conclusion

En bref, il faut retenir que l'établissement de la date de fin des travaux est essentiellement une question de faits et que cette date correspond au moment où tous les travaux prévus au contrat ont été exécutés dans leur intégralité.

Cet article est paru dans l'édition du jeudi 10 novembre 2016 du journal Constructo

Footnotes

1 2016 QCCS 3404

2 2016 QCCS 4547

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