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August 19, 2010

The Duty to Defend

Cadillac Fairview Corp v. Olympia Sanitation Products Inc., [2010] O.J. No. 3306 (S.C.J.)

In the context of slip and fall actions, there is often both an owner/occupier of a property as well as a company hired to maintain the premises. Frequently there is a dispute over whether the contract between the two entities requires the contractor to assume the defence of its principal.

In this decision, the main action arose out of an alleged slip and fall occurring at the Promenade Mall. Cadillac Fairview hired Olympia as part of a cleaning contract in which Olympia agreed to insure and indemnify Cadillac Fairview for any losses arising out of Olympia’s contractual responsibilities. The incident report completed after the fall described that the plaintiff had fallen over something and described the cause of the injury as a “trip and fall” as opposed to a “slip and fall”. Some of the allegations in the Statement of Claim involved allegations of improper design and disrepair of the accident location.

Justice DiTomaso held that Olympia was not required to assume the defence and indemnity of Cadillac Fairview. The Riocan case was distinguished in the circumstances as there were independent allegations of negligence beyond the scope of Olympia’s cleaning contract. In Riocan, the Court held that the true nature of the plaintiff’s allegations fell within the scope of the hold harmless clause, so the contractor was obliged to defend. Justice DiTomaso in this case was unable to determine one particular claim that fell within coverage captured the true essence of the action, and further, it was possible that the plaintiff was injured in a way that was totally unconnected to Olympia’s responsibilities.

This case shows the complicated nature of the duty to defend and indemnify. Cases are determined on the specific facts and allegations made in the Statement of Claim in addition to the contract between the parties. Generally, where there is some allegation of independent negligence plead by the plaintiff, the independent contractor will not be required to assume the defence and indemnify its principal.

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