On December 17, 2014 the Justice Statutes Amendment Act, 2014, SA 2014 c 13 received Royal Assent. Among other things, the enactment modifies the Limitations Act, RSA 2000, c L-12 and clarifies the limitation period for contribution claims made pursuant to the Tort-Feasors Act, RSA 2000, c T-5.
The Tort-Feasors Act allows tort-feasors (a negligent individual, for example) to obtain contribution from other tort-feasors who are also responsible for a plaintiff's injury. This enactment is significant because a plaintiff who has been injured by the acts of two or more individuals is entitled to sue only one or some of them and still recover 100 percent of his or her damages. Among other things, the Tort-Feasors Act helps to reduce the likelihood of a tort-feasor being held responsible for more damage than they caused.
Following the 2001 decision of Dean v Kociniak ("Dean"), courts in Alberta had consistently held that the limitation period for bringing contribution claims pursuant to the Tort-Feasors Act was two years from the date the defendant knew or ought to have known that a claim for contribution existed. This typically meant that a defendant would have two years from the date it was served with a Statement of Claim to third-party additional tort-feasors into the action. However, in 2013 the Alberta Court of Appeal in Canadian Natural Resources Ltd v Arcelormittal Tubular Products Roman SA ("CNRL") gave a new, narrower interpretation to the Tort-Feasors Act and determined that a defendant's claim for contribution against another potentially liable tort-feasor must be advanced within the plaintiff's limitation period (i.e., two years from when the plaintiff knew or ought to have known of a claim against that other tort-feasor).
This narrow interpretation of the Tort-Feasors Act reestablished the problem of the "late suing plaintiff". Because a plaintiff typically has a two year limitation period to sue, plus an extra year to serve a defendant with the Statement of Claim, a defendant sued towards the end of the plaintiff's limitation period could conceivably run out of time to seek contribution from other tort-feasors before it even became aware of the claim.
The amendments to the Limitation Act effectively overturn the Court of Appeal's ruling in CNRL and return the law to its state following Dean. The expiry of the limitation period applicable to claims for contribution is the later of two years from when a defendant is served with a Statement of Claim and the date on which the defendant knew, or ought to have known, that another tort-feasor may be liable for the same damage. The amendments expressly state that claims for contribution pursuant to the Tort-Feasors Act are no longer precluded by the expiration of the plaintiff's limitation period to sue. Significantly, with the exception of actions in which there has been a final judgment or settlement, the amendments to the Limitations Act are deemed to have retroactively come into force on March 1, 1999.
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