Canada: Le Contrat À Forfait : L'importance De Bien Évaluer L'étendue Des Travaux

Journal Constructo – 2 février 2017

Dans une affaire récente, Environnement PH inc. c. Services Enviro-Mart inc.1, la Cour supérieure a rappelé que la découverte de conditions imprévues en cours d'exécution des travaux, en l'absence d'une faute du client, ne constitue pas un motif permettant à l'entrepreneur de renégocier ou de mettre fin à son contrat.

Dans le cas à l'étude, l'entrepreneur a été condamné à payer les dommages découlant de sa décision de résilier son contrat suite à la découverte de conditions de sol imprévues.

Les faits

En 2013, le Centre de distribution intégré inc. (« CDI ») désire aménager de nouveaux locaux dans l'ancienne salle de chaufferie de son immeuble en plus de construire un nouvel étage. Avant de procéder à ces travaux, CDI doit décontaminer  certaines parties de l'immeuble. Les travaux de décontamination envisagés s'annoncent particulièrement complexes et coûteux, notamment en raison du fait que la zone à décontaminer se trouve en partie sous des fondations du bâtiment.

Afin de trouver une solution moins intrusive et moins onéreuse que la méthode usuelle de décontamination par excavation et remplacement des sols, l'entreprise Environnement PH inc. (« PH »), mandatée par CDI, signe en sous-traitance un contrat à forfait avec l'entreprise Services Enviro-Mart inc. (« SEM »).  Cette dernière offre une méthode de décontamination par injection au moyen d'une solution « Cool-Ox », laquelle permet la décontamination sans excavation. SEM garantit la performance de son procédé de décontamination et accepte de réaliser les travaux à un prix forfaitaire dans un délai de 60 jours ouvrables répartis sur 20 semaines.

Les travaux débutent en septembre 2013, mais s'avèrent difficiles. En cours d'exécution des travaux, SEM découvre des concentrations élevées et imprévues de contaminants. Les traitements au Cool-Ox ne donnent pas les résultats souhaités, et SEM est obligée de changer sa méthode de décontamination pour y inclure des travaux d'excavation. Or, lors de l'exécution de ceux-ci, SEM découvre une construction souterraine enfouie dans le sol ainsi que la présence d'un ancien puits.

C'est dans ces circonstances qu'au mois de septembre 2014, après quelques séances de négociations, SEM avise formellement PH qu'elle résilie son contrat et qu'elle quitte le chantier. Afin d'éviter d'être en défaut envers sa cliente CDI, PH complète les travaux de décontamination et intente ensuite un recours en dommages contre SEM pour le coût qu'elle a dû assumer pour la finalisation des travaux.

La décision

Devant la Cour, SEM plaide que sa décision de résilier le contrat était justifiée, car PH a manqué à son obligation d'information et de renseignement en ne l'informant pas de la présence possible du puits ni de cette source additionnelle de contamination.  La Cour rejette cet argument, car la preuve est à l'effet qu'aucune information n'était retenue par PH. Au contraire, PH a remis à SEM toutes les études de sol et autres rapports disponibles. De plus, la Cour note que SEM a lui-même procédé, à sa demande et aux emplacements qu'elle a choisis, à des échantillons de sols pour mieux évaluer l'étendue des travaux.

Un deuxième argument invoqué par SEM est le droit de résiliation unilatérale de l'entrepreneur, prévu à l'article 2126 du Code civil du Québec, lequel se lit comme suit :

  1. L'entrepreneur ou le prestataire de services ne peut résilier unilatéralement le contrat que pour un motif sérieux et, même alors, il ne peut le faire à contretemps; autrement, il est tenu de réparer le préjudice causé au client par cette résiliation. Il est tenu, lorsqu'il résilie le contrat, de faire tout ce qui est immédiatement nécessaire pour prévenir une perte.

SEM plaide que la découverte de conditions imprévues a modifié l'objet du contrat et que cela constitue un « motif sérieux » permettant la résiliation du contrat. La Cour ne retient pas cet argument, car en l'espèce ce n'est pas l'objet du contrat (la décontamination) mais plutôt la méthode d'exécution qui a été modifiée, laquelle relève de la responsabilité de l'entrepreneur. En effet, la méthode de décontamination a dû être adaptée lorsque l'entrepreneur a constaté que son procédé ne donnait pas les résultats attendus.

La Cour retient également le fait que les parties se sont entendues dans le cadre d'un contrat à forfait, régi par l'article 2109 C.c.Q., lequel prévoit que l'entrepreneur ne peut prétendre à une augmentation du prix au motif que l'ouvrage a requis plus de travail ou a coûté plus cher que prévu2.  La Cour conclut que c'est illégalement que SME avait mis fin à son contrat, et que cette dernière est responsable des dommages causés par cette décision illégale.

Conclusion

Cette affaire illustre les risques auxquels un entrepreneur s'expose en se liant par contrat à forfait, particulièrement lorsque la nature des travaux envisagés présente un risque élevé de conditions imprévues et de travaux additionnels.  La Cour nous rappelle que dans le cas d'un contrat à forfait, et en l'absence de faute du client, une modification aux conditions d'exécution du contrat ne permettra pas à l'entrepreneur de demander une augmentation du prix et ne constitue pas un « motif sérieux » permettant la résiliation du contrat, particulièrement lorsque l'entrepreneur garantit son ouvrage.

Il est par conséquent essentiel pour un entrepreneur de s'assurer d'avoir pris connaissance et tenu compte de toute l'information disponible et pertinente concernant les conditions d'exécution des travaux avant de se lier par contrat.  Lorsque possible, il serait prudent pour l'entrepreneur d'émettre une réserve dans sa soumission prévoyant la possibilité de renégocier le prix si jamais des conditions imprévues se manifestent au cours de l'exécution des travaux.

Cet article est paru dans l'édition du 2 février 2017 du journal Constructo

Footnotes

1. 2016 QCCS 6064.

2. Quant au client, l'article 2109 C.c.Q. prévoit que celui-ci est tenu de payer le prix convenu et il ne peut prétendre à une diminution du prix en faisant valoir que l'ouvrage a exigé moins de travail ou a couté moins cher que prévu.

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