Précis: The Nova Scotia Supreme Court held that the limitation period applicable to a river rafting accident that occurred prior to the 2009 amendments to the Marine Liability Act, was the two year limit in the Athens Convention which could not be extended even though the plaintiff was an infant.
Facts: In August 2008 a twelve year old boy fell out of a zodiac owned and operated by the defendant while participating in a rafting excursion on the Shubenacadie River. Although the boy suffered immediate personal injuries which required treatment, this action in the Nova Scotia Supreme Court was not commenced by his litigation guardian until 23 May 2013. The defendant brought this motion to strike the statement of claim on the basis that the limitation period had expired. The plaintiff argued: (1) that the Nova Scotia Limitation of Actions Act applied; (2) that the amendments made to the Marine Liability Act in 2009 exempting adventure tourism activities from the Athens Convention ought to be given retrospective effect; (3) that any limitation period ought to be postponed as the plaintiff was an infant at the time of the accident: and (4) that the "Waiver" signed by the plaintiff, which provided for Nova Scotia law, had the effect of making the claim subject to the law of Nova Scotia and not Canadian maritime law.
Decision: Order granted. The action is dismissed.
(1) Any question of the limitation period applicable to this claim is settled as being the two year limitation period in Article 16 of the Athens Convention attached as Schedule 2 to the Marine Liability Act, S.C. 2011, c.6. The decision of the Supreme Court of Canada in Marine Services International v Ryan Estate, 2013 SCC 44, which reframed the constitutional test for determining when provincial laws can apply to maritime matters does not undermine the rationale for the earlier decisions applying the Athens Convention to these types of claims. "The important objective of uniformity in Canadian maritime law and in the international community of maritime states should not be undermined by the application of individual, and different, provincial statutory regimes."
(2) The fact that the Marine Liability Act was amended in 2009 to exempt adventure tourism activities from the application of the Athens Convention is not relevant. Limitation periods are substantive, not procedural, and the 2009 change in the Marine Liability Act is not to be given retrospective effect. The substantive law governing this claim at the time of the injury, including the limitation period, is the Marine Liability Act as it existed at the time.
(3) Section 4 of the Nova Scotia Limitation of Actions Act, which provides for the suspension of limitation periods for claims by infants, has no application as it is not part of federal maritime law. The Athens Convention and the Marine Liability Act contain no provisions postponing limitation periods for infants and without such a provision there is no basis for the Court to do so. Further there is no general discretion to suspend or postpone the limitation period. Under the Athens Convention the two year limitation period commences to run from a fixed event, the disembarkation of the passenger, and the discoverability principle has no operation. The only provision in the Athens Convention permitting suspension or interruption of the limitation period is Art.16 s.3, which allows for a maximum extension of up to 3 years from the date of disembarkation.
(4) With respect to the "Waiver", it merely says that the laws of Nova Scotia shall apply. Nova Scotia law includes federal law. The "Waiver" incorporates rather than excludes Canadian maritime law.
Comment: It is arguable that this case is correctly decided but for the wrong reasons. Specifically, the holding that limitation provisions are always substantive and will never be given retrospective effect is questionable. As discussed in St. Jean v Cheung, 2008 ONCA 815, a decision by the Ontario Court of Appeal, limitation provisions may be classified as procedural or substantive and may have retrospective application depending on their effect. The changes to the Marine Liability Act in 2009 had the effect of exempting adventure tourism activities from the two year limitation period contained in Athens Convention and substituted the three year period contained in s.140. For this action, at the time the changes to the Marine Liability Act came into force on 21 September 2009, the two year period under the Athens Convention had not expired and the effect of s. 140 was to extend the time within which the plaintiff could bring its action to August 2011. In such circumstances, under the approach discussed in St. Jean v Cheung, the amendments arguably should have been given retrospective effect and the limitation period would have expired in or about August 2011.