In Industrielle Alliance, assurances auto et habitation inc. vs. Usines Giant inc.1, the Court had to rule on the procedural validity of a joinder of multiple claims, all involving the same water-heater manufacturer, Giant, in a single legal action.
Industrielle Alliance, duly subrogated in the rights of its insureds, had in fact instituted a legal action by combining 15 losses at separate properties, in separate cities, between 2015 and 2017.
Such a combination was evidently based on Article 143 of the Code of Civil Procedure, which allows several plaintiffs to join their claims and conclusions in the same application, provided they all have the same juridical basis, are grounded on the same facts, raise the same points of law, or if circumstances permit.
In this particular case, the alleged causes of the various water-heater failures were numerous (defective welding, premature wear, defective safety valve, cracked drain valve or tank valve). Because of the specificity of each defect raised, there was no risk of conflicting judgments, which usually militates in favour of the joinder of cases.
Each of the 15 water-heaters was to be the subject of an expert report dealing with different structures and issues. Depending on the situation, it might be necessary to implead the parties that installed the water-heater or the suppliers that supplied certain defective parts.
Accordingly, the Court concluded that [translation] “[it] is clear that had the insureds personally opted to combine their claims in a single application, Giant would have been justified in objecting […]” adding that “[the] claims are not at all grounded on the same facts, nor the same cause of action. The production of evidence is different for each loss.”
However, the conclusions of this new decision do not mean that from now on insurers will no longer be able to combine multiple losses resulting from defective goods made by a single manufacturer in a single application.
Indeed, the Court clearly stated that [translation] “[…] in some situations, there may be a sufficient connection between the various claims indemnified by an insurer for them to coexist in a single application.” In particular, the Court cited as an example the cases against Crane, where the cause of the failure in question, namely the breaking of the toilet tank, was the same in each file. The example of a single action against a city or municipality due to multiple instances of sewer backup was also mentioned.
An insurer acting in subrogation may wish to manage related claims involving the same manufacturer jointly and/or concurrently, in the interests of efficiency, shared information, and cost control. At this stage, it is indeed preferable to have an overview of the related claims, to avoid repeating similar procedures, to maximize the available information, and to keep costs down.
However, when bringing proceedings it is advisable to determine whether or not a single application can be instituted by considering how the various files are connected. The files may then be combined based on the judicial district, the kind of breakdown identified, the type of part that failed, or instead, separated by loss if the connection seems insufficient, as in this particular case.
1 2018 QCCQ 3030.