Supreme Court

Constitutional Law

Historic trade-off of compensation in lieu of right to sue

Ship capsized while returning from fishing expedition. Dependants (Estates) of brothers killed in capsize received Workplace Health, Safety and Compensation Act (Nfld. & Lab.) (“WHSCA”), compensation but commenced proceedings under federal Maritime Liability Act (Can.) (“MLA”), against University Marine, Marine Services International and employee, and against Attorney General of Canada, alleging negligence in design and construction of ship and inspection. Workplace Health, Safety and Compensation Commission held action prohibited by statutory bar in s. 44 of WHSCA, but Supreme Court, Trial Division, overturned decision. Majority of Court of Appeal upheld trial judgment. Appeal to Supreme Court of Canada allowed. WHSCA provides no-fault compensation to workers and dependants arising from workplace accidents, replacing tort action for negligence with compensation. Section 44 of WHSCA provides statutory bar; right to compensation instead of rights of action to which worker or dependants entitled due to workplace injury. Workers’ compensation schemes generally fall within provincial jurisdiction over property and civil rights. Historic trade-off of compensation in lieu of right to sue at heart of workers’ compensation schemes, distinct from and do not interact with tort regimes. Statutory bar applied. No direct employment relationship between brothers and Marine Services but any employer contributing to scheme benefits from statutory bar. No dispute brothers injured in course of employment, that Marine Services employer under WHSCA. Commission’s finding that injury that led to brothers’ death occurred in conduct of operations usual in industry carried on by Marine Services reasonable. Constitutional issue was whether statutory bar in provincial workers’ compensation scheme could preclude federal maritime negligence action. Interjurisdictional immunity protects core of exclusive classes of subject created by Constitution Act, 1867 but has limited application. Prior case law favoured application but while maritime negligence law at core of federal power over navigation and shipping and s. 44 of WHSCA trenches on that core, level of intrusion insufficient to trigger interjurisdictional immunity. Federal paramountcy applies where inconsistency between valid federal and provincial legislative enactments but not where inconsistency between common law and legislative enactment. Under proper interpretation of MLA, federal paramountcy does not apply. Section 6(2) of MLA, which provides that if person dies by fault or neglect of another under circumstances that would have entitled person, if not deceased, to recover damages, dependants of deceased may maintain action for loss resulting from death against person from whom deceased person would have been entitled to recover, accommodates s. 44 of WHSCA. Estates received compensation and became subject to statutory bar because brothers succumbed to injury for which they would have received compensation had they lived. No conflict between two statutes distinct in purpose and nature.

Newfoundland (Workplace Health, Safety & Compensation Commission) v. Ryan Estate (Aug. 2, 2013, S.C.C., McLachlin C.J.C., LeBel J., Fish J., Abella J., Rothstein J., Cromwell J., Moldaver J., Karakatsanis J., and Wagner J., File No. 34429) Decision at 214 A.C.W.S. (3d) 426 was reversed.  229 A.C.W.S. (3d) 404.

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