The recent Ontario decision in Crozier v. A&P Canada Inc., clarifies the law regarding the “implied warranty of fitness” under Canadian provincial Sale of Goods legislation.
The plaintiff contracted near-fatal “adult colonization botulism” (ACB), an extremely rare condition, as a result of consuming peanut butter, which was sold by the defendant, A&P Canada Inc., and manufactured by the third party defendant, Kraft Canada Inc. It was accepted by the parties that the peanut butter was not actually contaminated with botulism, but rather contained inactive botulism spores. Such spores exist commonly throughout nature, and often appear in food. Under ordinary circumstances, the spores are digested without incident.
The plaintiff suffered from certain serious digestive conditions, which the Court accepted put her at risk of contracting ACB. Prior to her case, those conditions were not believed to be risk factors for contracting ACB. The Court also accepted that, as of the date of the purchase of the peanut butter, many knowledgeable authorities, including the Canadian government, did not even recognize ACB to be a form of botulism. According to the trial judge, the evidence suggested that prior to this particular incident, there had been only 10 reported cases of ACB worldwide, and the plaintiff’s expert conceded that this case was the first known association of ACB with the consumption of food.
The plaintiff framed her action as a breach of warranty case under the Ontario Sale of Goods Act, alleging that the sale of peanut butter containing botulism spores was a breach of the statutory warranty that goods sold in Ontario “will be reasonably fit.” The defendant moved for summary judgment, arguing that a statutory warranty of fitness is not breached where the alleged defect in the goods arises from an idiosyncrasy particular to an individual buyer, and of which the seller is not informed prior to the sale transaction.
In granting summary judgment, the Court recognized that the “personal idiosyncrasy” doctrine had been adopted by Canadian academics and in some trial level decisions, although there is no appellate authority on the issue. In adopting the “personal idiosyncrasy” doctrine, the Court explicitly rejected the plaintiff’s submission that Canadian Sale of Goods legislation imposes strict liability for injury resulting from use of a product. Instead, the Court found that where an injury resulting from ordinary use of a product would not have occurred but for an idiosyncrasy or abnormality particular to the plaintiff, and of which the defendant was not informed, there was no genuine issue for trial as the plaintiff had no chance of success.