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Government Housing Loan Potentially Leads to Private Law Duty of Care in Brain Injury Case

Reasons for judgement were released recently by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, discussing whether a government home improvement loan can create a private law duty of care.
In last month’s case (Benoit v. Banfield) the Plaintiff suffered a serious brain injury when falling from a staircase built by the Defendant. The Defendant reportedly built the stair case “without handrails or guards“.
The construction was financed in part by a forgivable loan provided by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (“CMHC”). The loan was part of a program called the Canadian Home Renovation Plan. The money was to be advanced “upon satisfactory completion of the work” by the homeowner and CMHC was to conduct two inspections to ensure the work was “completed satisfactorily“.
The Plaintiff sued the homeowner and also the CMHC. The CMHC applied to dismiss the lawsuit arguing that their limited relationship to the plaintiff did not create a private law duty of care. Madam Justice Wedge disagreed and allowed the lawsuit to proceed. In doing so the Court provided the following reasons:

[39] In the present case, CMHC offered grants of up to $3,000 per applicant for a one-year period. The pool of funds from which to draw was limited in the amount of $30 million. Thus, even were one to consider the possibility of a duty of care to all loan recipients, the number of persons is not indeterminate. In the context of the present case, liability extends only to the class of persons who might reasonably be foreseen as users of the defective staircase in question.

[40] Thus, I conclude that on the facts as pleaded by the infant plaintiff, there is a reasonable prospect of successfully establishing proximity. The plaintiff’s claim is grounded in allegations of specific conduct by CMHC concerning the creation of the defective staircase and its negligent inspections.

[41] As noted by the Supreme Court of Canada in Imperial Tobacco at para. 47:

… where the asserted basis for proximity is grounded in specific conduct and interactions, ruling a claim out at the proximity stage may be difficult. So long as there is a reasonable prospect that the asserted interactions could, if true, result in a finding of sufficient proximity, and the statute does not exclude that possibility, the matter must be allowed to proceed to trial, subject to any policy considerations that may negate the prima facie duty of care at the second stage of the analysis.

[42] This case falls squarely within the circumstances described in that passage, and accordingly the motion to strike is dismissed.

bc injury law, Benoit v. Banfield, Madam Justice Wedge, Private Law Duty of Care, Proximity, Rule 9, Rule 9-5, Rule 9-5(1)