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Even a Limitation Period has its Limits – Beaudoin Estate v. Campbellford Memorial Hospital

Beaudoin Estate v. Campbellford Memorial Hospital https://canlii.ca/t/jcwj1

This appeal involved a medical malpractice claim brought by the estate of the late Garry Beaudoin (the “Estate”) and by his wife, daughter, and grandchildren as claimants under the Family Act (the “Appellants”) against Campbellford Memorial Hospital, two emergency room doctors, and a diagnostic radiologist (the “Respondents”).

Mr. Beaudoin passed away on January 9, 2015. The Appellants asserted that Mr. Beaudoin was negligently diagnosed and treated at the hospital on January 3, 4, and 5, 2015, leading to a delay in surgery that could have saved his life.

The Appellants issued a statement of claim on April 27, 2017, nearly two years and three months after Mr. Beaudoin passed away.

The Respondents delivered their statement of defence and asserted that the action was statute-barred because it was not brought within the two-year limitation period prescribed under s. 38(3) of the Trustee Act. Accordingly, the Respondents brought a motion under Rule 21.01(1) (a) of the Rules of Civil Procedure seeking an Order dismissing the action as statute-barred.

The Appellants responded by amending their claim and plead that the Respondents fraudulently concealed portions of Mr. Beaudoin’s medical records. Specifically, the Appellants alleged that they had requested and paid for Mr. Beaudoin’s complete medical records from the hospital in March of 2015. What they were provided with did not include CT imaging conducted on January 3, 2015, which showed an obstruction and/or occlusion of Mr. Beaudoin’s mesenteric artery. This CT imaging was not disclosed to the Appellants until May 2017, more than two years later.

The Appellants claimed that the fraudulent concealment of the CT imaging prevented them from knowing that they had a cause of action against the Respondents until May 2017, about one month after they issued their amended claim in April 2017. The motion proceeded in April 2018 and the motion judge ultimately struck out the Appellants’ claims under the Trustee Act as statute-barred, ruling that the appellants could not rely on fraudulent concealment to toll the limitation period because there was no causal connection between the alleged improper concealment and the Appellants’ failure to bring their claim within the limitation period. The Appellants appealed this decision.

Issues:

The issues on appeal were as follows:

(i) Did the motion judge err in deciding the question of fraudulent concealment as a question of law under r. 21.01(1) (a)?; and,

(ii) Was it open to the motion judge to find that the facts as pleaded in the Appellant’s claim relating to causation were patently ridiculous or manifestly incapable of proof?

Holding & Reasons:

(i) Did the motion judge err in deciding the question of fraudulent concealment as a question of law under r. 21.01(1)(a)?

Rule 21.01(1) (a) provides as follows:

21.01 (1) A party may move before a judge,

(a) for the determination, before trial, of a question of law raised by a pleading in an action where the determination of the question may dispose of all or part of the action, substantially shorten the trial or result in a substantial saving of costs; or

(b) to strike out a pleading on the ground that it discloses no reasonable cause of action or defence, and the judge may make an order or grant judgment accordingly.  R.R.O. 1990, Reg. 194, r. 21.01 (1).

(2) No evidence is admissible on a motion,

(a) under clause (1) (a), except with leave of a judge or on consent of the parties;

(b) under clause (1) (b).  R.R.O. 1990, Reg. 194, r. 21.01 (2).z 21.01 (1) A party may move before a judge,

The court identified the main principles applicable to a motion under Rule 21.01(1) (a):

(i) the test is whether the determination of the issue of law is “plain and obvious”;

(ii) the facts pleaded in the statement of claim are assumed to be true, unless they are patently ridiculous or manifestly incapable of proof; and,

(iii) the statement of claim should be read as generously as possible to accommodate drafting inadequacies, and if the claim has some chance of success, it should be permitted to proceed.

The Respondents relied on the limitation period in s. 38 of the Trustee Act which imposes a two-year limitation period and that the discoverability principles under the Limitations Act, 2002 do not apply. However, the court, citing Levesque v. Crampton Estate, noted that this limitation period can be mitigated by common law rules, such as the doctrine of fraudulent concealment.[1]

The doctrine of fraudulent concealment was described by the Supreme Court of Canada in Pioneer v. Godfrey as an equitable doctrine that prevents limitation periods from being used ‘as an instrument of injustice.[2] Further, the court noted that it applies, whenever, “it would be, for any reason, unconscionable for the defendant to rely on the advantage gained by having concealed the existence of a cause of action.

On this basis, the court held that a motion under r. 21.01(1) (a) was not the proper vehicle for weighing evidence and making findings of fact. The causation arguments made by the respondents in response to the allegations of fraudulent concealment fundamentally involved a factual inquiry and such inquiry should not be determined on a motion to determine a question of law under r. 21.01(1)(a).

(ii) Was it open to the motion judge to find that the facts as pleaded in the Appellant’s claim relating to causation were patently ridiculous or manifestly incapable of proof?

In addition to finding that a motion under r. 21.01(1)(a) was not the proper vehicle for weighing evidence and making findings of fact, the court noted that the motion judge erred in that, he was required to assume that all facts pleaded in the Appellant’s claim were true under r. 21.01(1)(a). In his reasons, the motion judge did not purport to apply the standard of “patently ridiculous or manifestly incapable of proof”. Rather, he made a factual finding against the Appellants on causation based on the pleadings alone.

Conclusion:

The court held that the Appellants should have the opportunity to support their allegation of fraudulent concealment with evidence and only then will the court have to decide when the limitation clock starts to run or, having started to run, when it stops and when it starts up again. As such, the Appellant’s claim could not be rejected on a motion under rule 21.01(1)(a) where the admission of the evidence required to support such an allegation is prohibited. As a result, the court held that the Appellant’s plea of fraudulent concealment could not be patently ridiculous nor manifestly incapable of proof.

[1] Levesque v. Crampton Estate, 2017 ONCA 455 at para 51.

[2] Pioneer Corp. v. Godfrey, 2019 SCC 42.

This paper is intended for the purposes of providing information only and is to be used only for the purposes of guidance. This paper is not intended to be relied upon as the giving of legal advice and does not purport to be exhaustive.

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