Canada: « L'entrepreneur aurait dû le savoir » : un retour sur l'obligation de renseignement du donneur d'ouvrage

Journal Constructo – 28 mars 2017

Le 7 mars dernier, la Cour d'appel a rendu jugement dans l'affaire Procureure générale du Québec c. Talon Sebeq inc.1, et a rejeté l'argument du Procureure générale du Québec (représentant le Ministère des Transports du Québec) selon lequel il appartenait à l'entrepreneur de se renseigner davantage sur les risques inhérents au contrat et de les assumer. Ce faisant, la Cour d'appel a maintenu la décision de la Cour supérieure du Québec, laquelle avait condamné le MTQ à verser plus de 1 592 780 $ à l'entrepreneur Talon Sebeq.

Les faits

À la suite d'un appel d'offres émis par le MTQ, l'entrepreneur Talon Sebeq obtient deux contrats d'épandage d'enrobé coulé à froid (« ECF »), l'un sur l'autoroute 70 à Saguenay et l'autre sur la route 170 à Larouche. Conçu en France, l'ECF est censé prolonger à moindre coût la durée de vie des surfaces des routes asphaltées. Normalement, l'ECF a une durée de vie de 3 à 5 ans.

Les travaux sont exécutés en été 2008 et ceux-ci se déroulent sans incident et conformément au devis. Cependant, dès l'automne 2008, les représentants du MTQ constatent que l'ECF mis en place par Talon Sebeq semble s'user prématurément. Au printemps prochain, soit en avril 2009, les parties assistent à une visite des lieux et constantes l'usure avancée de l'ECF.

Les parties conviennent alors que Talon Sebeq exécutera des travaux nécessaires afin de corriger la situation, sous réserve toutefois d'une réclamation par Talon Sebeq pour les coûts de ces travaux additionnels. Les travaux sont exécutés à l'été 2009. Quelques mois plus tard, Talon Sedeq fait parvenir au MTQ son compte au montant de 1 452 562,81 $, que ce dernier refuse de payer.

Au printemps subséquent, soit en mars 2010, les parties se rendent sur place et constatent de nouveau l'arrachement de l'ECF sur de grandes surfaces de l'autoroute. L'entrepreneur exécute alors d'autres travaux correctifs et essais, et soumet sa note au MTQ au montant de 140 218,18 $, lequel refuse de payer en raison de l'usure prématurée de l'ECF.

La relation entre les parties se détériore, et le dossier se judiciarise. Le 29 août 2011, Talon Sebeq dépose une Requête introductive d'instance par laquelle il réclame au MTQ la somme de 1 618 464,76$ pour tous les travaux correctifs réalisés. Pour sa part, le MTQ, conteste la demande de l'entrepreneur, et se portant demanderesse reconventionnelle, réclame la somme de 1 202 171,70$ à titre de remboursement de montants versés à Talon Sebeq en vertu du contrat initial.

La décision

Dans son analyse du dossier, le juge de première instance réfère aux dispositions contractuelles liant les parties. À cet égard, le juge note que le contrat ne comporte aucune clause de garantie de durabilité, contrairement à d'autres contrats auxquels souscrit le MTQ. Par ailleurs, la preuve présentée lors de l'audience démontre que les travaux ont été exécutés correctement et conformément au devis.

De plus, lors de l'audition il a été démontré qu'une quantité importante de pneus à crampons est vendue au Saguenay comparativement à d'autres endroits où le même ECF est utilisé sans difficulté. Les experts retenus par Talon Sebeq concluent que la dégradation rapide de l'ECF avait été causée par l'utilisation intensive de pneus à crampons sur les routes du Saguenay. Le juge de première instance a retenu cette explication et a fait droit à la réclamation de Talon Sebeq. Le MTQ fut condamné à payer la somme de 1 592 780,99 $, avec intérêts au taux légal à compter de l'introduction de l'action.

Le MTQ porte cette décision en appel, où il soutient notamment qu'il appartenait à l'entrepreneur Talon Sebeq de se renseigner davantage à propos des risques inhérents au contrat, à savoir, l'utilisation élevée des pneus à crampons dans la région de Saguenay.

À l'analyse de cet argument, la Cour d'appel note que les ingénieurs et dirigeants du MTQ avaient été qualifiés de « sommité en matière de revêtement de chaussée » par le juge de première instance. De plus, la Cour note que c'est le MTQ qui gère le réseau routier et qui possède les connaissances relatives à son état et à son usage dans les différentes régions de la province, telles que les variations climatiques, les procédés de déneigement, l'épandage de sels ou d'abrasifs, la qualité de la chaussée, l'intensité de la circulation, le ratio véhicules/camions, la fréquence horaire des usagers, etc. La Cour observe de plus que c'est le MTQ qui assure la réglementation du réseau routier pour en contrôler l'usage. Par conséquent, la Cour énonce que le MTQ devait connaître les pratiques régionales des automobilistes qui utilisent des pneus munis de crampons métalliques.

De plus, la Cour d'appel retient que la preuve présentée en première instance avait démontré que le MTQ était bel et bien conscient des risques importants dans l'usage de l'ECF dans la région de Saguenay et qu'il a choisi de ne pas transférer ou dévoiler ces risques à l'entrepreneur.

Selon la Cour, le MTQ aurait pu choisir de transférer ces risques à l'entrepreneur, en dévoilant les risques appréhendés aux soumissionnaires, mais cela n'a pas été fait. La Cour d'appel énonce que ce choix du MTQ de ne pas dévoiler ces risques aux soumissionnaires n'est pas sans conséquence. La Cour maintient donc la décision du juge de première instance et rejette l'appel.

Conclusion

Cette affaire rappelle l'importance pour tout donneur d'ouvrage d'agir de manière transparente envers les soumissionnaires. Lorsque le donneur d'ouvrage connaît ou devrait connaître de l'information susceptible d'influencer les conditions d’exécution des travaux ou les risques y afférents, celui-ci doit les communiquer aux soumissionnaires et aux cocontractants. En cas de manquement à son obligation positive de renseignement, le donneur d'ouvrage s'expose à une condamnation pour les dommages causés par ce manquement.

Cet article est paru dans l’édition du 28 mars 2017 du journal Constructo

Footnote

1 2017 QCCA 363

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