Tolofson v Jensen

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Tolofson v Jensen

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Hearing: February 21, 1994
Judgment: December 15, 1994
Full case nameLeroy Jensen and Roger Tolofson v. Kim Tolofson; Réjean Gagnon v. Tina Lucas and Justin Gagnon by their litigation guardian Heather Gagnon, Heather Gagnon personally, and Cyrille Lavoie
Citations [1994] 3 S.C.R. 1022, 120 D.L.R. (4th) 289, 100 B.C.L.R. (2d) 1, 77 O.A.C. 81, [1995] 1 W.W.R. 609
Docket No. 23445
Ruling Tolofson and Gagnon appeals allowed.
The proper law of a tort is the law of where the accident happened (lex loci)
Court Membership
Chief Justice: Antonio Lamer
Puisne Justices: Gérard La Forest, Claire L'Heureux-Dubé, John Sopinka, Charles Gonthier, Peter Cory, Beverley McLachlin, Frank Iacobucci, John C. Major
Reasons given
Majority La Forest J., joined by Gonthier, Cory, McLachlin and Iacobucci JJ.
Concurrence Major J.
Concurrence Lamer C.J.

Tolofson v Jensen, [1994] 3 S.C.R. 1022 is a landmark decision of the Supreme Court of Canada on conflict of laws in tort. The Court held that the primary determiner in selecting a country's law in tort should be the lex loci (the location where the tort occurred). The case was decided with Lucas (Litigation guardian of) v Gagnon.

Supreme Court of Canada highest court of Canada

The Supreme Court of Canada is the highest court of Canada, the final court of appeals in the Canadian justice system. The court grants permission to between 40 and 75 litigants each year to appeal decisions rendered by provincial, territorial and federal appellate courts. Its decisions are the ultimate expression and application of Canadian law and binding upon all lower courts of Canada, except to the extent that they are overridden or otherwise made ineffective by an Act of Parliament or the Act of a provincial legislative assembly pursuant to section 33 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Conflict of laws concerns relations across different legal jurisdictions between natural persons, companies, corporations and other legal entities, their legal obligations and the appropriate forum and procedure for resolving disputes between them. Conflict of laws especially affects private international law, but may also affect domestic legal disputes e.g. determination of which state law applies in the United States, or where a contract makes incompatible reference to more than one legal framework.

A tort, in common law jurisdictions, is a civil wrong that causes a claimant to suffer loss or harm resulting in legal liability for the person who commits the tortious act.



Prior to this case, the leading case on the matter was McLean v Pettigrew , [1945] S.C.R. 62 which stated that the proper law to apply would always be the lex fori , the local law of the court, irrespective of the connection with the jurisdiction.

The doctrine of the proper law is applied in the choice of law stage of a lawsuit involving the conflict of laws.

Lex fori is a legal term used in the conflict of laws to refer to the laws of the jurisdiction in which a legal action is brought. When a court decides that it should, by reason of the principles of conflict of law, resolve a given legal dispute by reference to the laws of another jurisdiction, the lex causae, the lex fori still govern procedural matters.

Tolofson case

A father and son from British Columbia are driving in Saskatchewan and are in a motor vehicle accident with Leroy Jensen, a resident of Saskatchewan. The son, Kim Tolofson, sues both Jensen and his father. Under Saskatchewan law the claimant must prove gross negligence in order for a gratuitous passenger to recover and the limitation period is 12 months. Kim did not sue for six years once he became 18 years old.

Lucas case

The Gagnon family from Ontario were driving in Quebec and were in a motor vehicle accident with Mr. Lavoie, a Quebec resident. No action was allowed under Quebec no-fault system.

Ruling of the Court

Justice La Forest wrote for the majority. He considered the issue of territorial limits of jurisdiction. He concluded that the general policy interests were those of order and fairness. [1] He was highly concerned of confusion resulting from complex rules.

La Forest explicitly stated that exceptions to this rule should be rare. He argued that exceptions would "encourage frivolous cross-claims and joinders of third parties", it would create uncertainty, discourage judges to make summary judgments, and would discourage settlement. He contemplated that there may be exception at the international level where there may be injustice [2] or where both parties are domiciled in the forum. [3]

In law, domicile is the status or attribution of being a lawful permanent resident in a particular jurisdiction. A person can remain domiciled in a jurisdiction even after he has left it, if he has maintained sufficient links with that jurisdiction or has not displayed an intention to leave permanently.

Alberta later enacted a Limitations Act (R.S.A. 2000, c. L‑12, s. 12) to get around the result in Tolofson.

Subsequent cases have considered the limits of the exception to the Tolofson rule. In Hanlan v Sernesky (1998, Ont.CA) where the court found exception to the rule on an international matter. However, similar reasoning was rejected on provincial matters in Leornard v Houle (1997, Ont.CA).

See also

<i>Boys v Chaplin</i>

Boys v Chaplin [1971] AC 356 is a leading conflict of laws case decided by the House of Lords.

<i>Red Sea Insurance Co Ltd v Bouygues SA</i>

Red Sea Insurance Co Ltd v Bouygues SA [1995] 1 AC 190 is a judicial decision of the Privy Council relating to choice of law in tort. The case was an appeal from the decision of the Court of Appeal of Hong Kong, but as the case was decided in Hong Kong pursuant to the English Law Ordinance, section 3(1), it is also taken to be an authoritative statement of English law.

<i>Morguard Investments Ltd v De Savoye</i>

Morguard Investments Ltd v De Savoye, [1990] 3 SCR 1077 is the leading decision of the Supreme Court of Canada on the enforcement of extraprovincial judgments. The Court held that the standard for enforcing a default judgment from a different province is not the same as if it were from another country; rather the Court adopts the test from Indyka v Indyka, [1969] 1 AC 33 (HL) and the Moran v Pyle National (Canada) Ltd, [1975] 1 SCR 393 where there must be a "real and substantial connection" between the petitioner and the country or territory exercising jurisdiction.

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Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37 (1971), was a case in which the United States Supreme Court held that United States federal courts were required to abstain from hearing any civil rights tort claims brought by a person who is currently being prosecuted for a matter arising from that claim.

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<i>Rylands v Fletcher</i>

Rylands v Fletcher[1868] UKHL 1 was a decision by the House of Lords which established a new area of English tort law. Rylands employed contractors to build a reservoir, playing no active role in its construction. When the contractors discovered a series of old coal shafts improperly filled with debris, they chose to continue work rather than properly blocking them up. The result was that on 11 December 1860, shortly after being filled for the first time, Rylands' reservoir burst and flooded a neighbouring mine, run by Fletcher, causing £937 worth of damage. Fletcher brought a claim under negligence against Rylands, through which the case eventually went to the Exchequer of Pleas. The majority ruled in favour of Rylands. Bramwell B, however, dissenting, argued that the claimant had the right to enjoy his land free of interference from water, and that as a result the defendant was guilty of trespass and the commissioning of a nuisance. Bramwell's argument was affirmed, both by the Court of Exchequer Chamber and the House of Lords, leading to the development of the "Rule in Rylands v Fletcher"; that "the person who for his own purposes brings on his lands and collects and keeps there anything likely to do mischief if it escapes, must keep it in at his peril, and, if he does not do so, is prima facie answerable for all the damage which is the natural consequence of its escape". No right "to enjoy property" exists in UK black letter law, and it is this decision upon which stare decisis is built in the area.

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<i>Crevier v Quebec (AG)</i>

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<i>Club Resorts Ltd v Van Breda</i>

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  1. pp. 1050-1051
  2. at 307 he stated "However, because a rigid rule on the international level could give rise to injustice, in certain circumstances, I am not averse to retaining a discretion in the court to apply our own law to deal with such circumstances. I can, however, imagine few cases where this would be necessary."
  3. p. 310