Limitation Periods in Insurance Contracts

Can a one year limitation period in an insurance contract override the two year limitation period?

 The Ontario Court of Appeal says it can. In Boyce v.The Co-Operators General Insurance Company, 2013 ONCA 298, the Boyces owned and operated a boutique insured by the Co-Operators. A foul odour was discovered on October 30, 2010 and the Co-Operators took an off coverage position on the basis the smell was caused by a skunk.

The Boyces claimed that the business had been vandalized, a peril covered by the policy, and they filed a proof of loss claim in December 2010 and commenced an action in February 2012, more than one year, but less than two years after the incident. The Co-Operators moved for summary judgment, claiming that the action was time barred by a one year limitation period set out in the insurance contract.

The motion judge held that the one year limitation period in the contract did not override the statutory two year limitation period set out in s. 4 of the Limitations Act, 2002. The Co-Operators appealed.

A term in a contract purporting to vary an otherwise applicable limitation period under the Limitations Act has to comply with s. 22 of the Limitations Act. That section allows parties to vary or exclude, by agreement, the otherwise applicable statutory limitation period. The Co-Operators relied on s. 22(5) which applies only to business agreements.

The Court of Appeal stated at paragraph 20:

A court faced with a contractual term that purports to shorten a statutory limitation period must consider whether that provision in ‘clear language’ describes a limitation period, identifies the scope of the application of that limitation period, and excludes the operation of other limitation periods. A term in a contract which meets those requirements will be sufficient for s. 22 purposes, assuming, of course, it meets any of the other requirements specifically identified in s. 22.

In order for s. 22(5) to apply the contract must be a “business agreement” defined by the Limitations Act as “an agreement made by parties none of whom is a consumer”. The Court of Appeal found that the Boyces contracted with the Co-Operatos for insurance covering various risks related to the operations of their business and the contract was not for personal, family or household purposes. As such the contract was a “business agreement”. The appeal was allowed. 

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