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Perfect Knowledge Not Required to Start Limitations Clock

The case of Taiga Building Products Ltd. v. Classic Fire Protection Inc., 2021 ONSC 676, addresses the type of knowledge required to start the limitations clock.

On January 11, 2014, a sprinkler system inside the plaintiff’s business premises ruptured and caused a flood. Slightly more than two years later, on February 12, 2016, the plaintiff sued the company that installed the sprinkler system and the company that inspected the sprinkler system.

Both defendants brought a summary judgment motion, seeking a dismissal of the action on the basis that the plaintiff missed the limitation period.

The plaintiff argued that the claim was not discovered until February 28, 2014 when it received an expert opinion. Justice Conlan disagreed, stating that, by January 28, 2014 at the latest, the plaintiff had received information from the expert to indicate that the incident was caused by an act or omission of the defendants.

The expert had not formed a conclusive opinion by that date. However, Justice Conlan stated that the plaintiff had more than suspicion and had a sufficient degree of certainty that the defendants were liable. A conclusive expert opinion is not required is start the limitations clock.

As a result, the claim was commenced too late and the action against the defendants was dismissed.

Justice Conlan provides a helpful overview of the relevant principles in the limitation period analysis:

  • The plaintiff is not required to know the precise cause of its injury or damage before the limitation period starts to run, but rather it is sufficient that the plaintiff knows enough facts on which to base its allegations of negligence against the defendant.
  • The knowledge required to start the limitation clock is more than suspicion and less than perfect knowledge.
  • An expert’s opinion is not a pre-requisite to the commencement of the limitation period clock.
  • However, there are some cases where an expert’s opinion or an expert’s report is necessary for the plaintiff to have “discovered” its cause of action, and the fact that the ultimate expert opinion is no different than the initial or preliminary theory does not automatically “move the limitation period backwards”.
  • A notice letter sent by the plaintiff to the prospective defendant is not determinative of the commencement of the limitation period.