Maritime Law and The Consumer Setting

A recent lower Court judgment (Beaumont v. Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings) illustrates some potential difficulties ahead in reconciling Canadian Maritime Law (CML) with consumer legislation. CML is federal law, while consumer legislation is provincial.

Two passengers sued a cruise ship owner (note: acknowledging no-claim against NCLH, but which remains in the title of the case) for various heads of damages resulting from damage to their luggage. The defence moved to have the action dismissed on a summary basis on the grounds that CML applied to the exclusion of other law, and that per CML there were no grounds for jurisdiction.

The plaintiffs argued unsuccesfully that provincial (Quebec) consumer-related law overrode those provisions, but the Court concluded that the contract was maritime in nature. The Court dismissed the action, holding in short that the claim was subject to CML and which is uniform across Canada; in this case per the Marine Liability Act and its incorporation of the Athens Convention. The result of this was that since there was no forum conveniens connection, and since the contract of carriage contained arbitration and jurisdiction clauses in favour of Florida venue, as well as limitation provisions, suit could not be taken in Canada.

The result is in our view correct, and consistent with prior similar cases. What is interesting is the potential challenge to this position represented by a case in which leave was recently given to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada.

In Wartsila Canada v. Transport Desgagnés, the Quebec Court of Appeal held that a claim in relation to the purchase of a major ship-engine part was a claim subject to CML, and that provisions of Quebec law (which would have made contractual limitatons unenforceable) did not apply. In July 2018, the Supreme Court of Canada granted leave to appeal. As we said in our newsletter in July, the Transport Desgagnés interests will argue that modern cooperative federalism allows for more flexibility when there is overlapping between equally valid federal and provincial laws. If the Supreme Court accepts that view, there could be a re-opening of what has so far been a long and consistent line of authority.