A construction contractor has lost its bid for damages from a city, relying on a little-used section of the Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act that permits contractors to sue a building owner for damages for failing to disclose the presence of designated substances such as asbestos. The contractor’s lawsuit and appeal were both dismissed.

The contractor alleged that the City of Ottawa had failed to notify it that asbestos was present on the construction project site, and that as a result, the contractor’s workers had been exposed to asbestos. The contractor claimed damages for administrative expenses (it’s president’s time dealing with the issue) and legal costs resulting.

The contractor relied on subsection 30(5) of the Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act, which reads:

30. (5) An owner who fails to comply with this section is liable to the constructor and every contractor and subcontractor who suffers any loss or damages as the result of the subsequent discovery on the project of a designated substance that the owner ought reasonably to have known of but that was not on the list prepared under subsection (1).

Subsections 30(1) and (3) of the OHSA together require the building owner to provide the contractor with a list of designated substances at the project site.

The trial and appeal court decided that the contractor had not proven any damages. The list of hours spent and work done by the contractor’s president to deal with the asbestos issue, was vague and general and was not suitable proof. There was no evidence that the legal bill was ever submitted to or paid by the contractor. As such, the contractor’s lawsuit was dismissed.

Lastly, the trial and appeal court were not prepared to grant a “declaration” that the City caused the unprotected exposure of the workers to asbestos or that the City was liable for damages incurred by the contractor and workers as a result of the exposure. The court noted that the request was speculative as it was not known whether any of the employees would ever become ill as a result of the asbestos exposure and if so, whether they would start legal proceedings. Also, any declaration might have an impact on the rights of employees who were not a party to the lawsuit between the contractor and the City.

Curoc Construction Ltd. v. Ottawa (City), 2015 ONCA 693 (CanLII)