Vorvis v. Ins. Corp. of B.C. (1989), 94 N.R. 321 (SCC)

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Eonis J. Vorvis v. Insurance Corporation of British Columbia

(No. 18844)

Indexed As: Vorvis v. Insurance Corporation of British Columbia

Supreme Court of Canada

Beetz, Estey, McIntyre, Lamer, Wilson, Le Dain and L’Heureux-Dubé, JJ.

May 4, 1989.


Vorvis, age 54, was employed by the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia in September 1973 as a junior solicitor. In January 1981 Vorvis was dismissed. Vorvis claimed damages for wrongful dismissal. The trial judge held that Vorvis was wrongfully dismissed and awarded damages based on a seven month notice requirement but rejected claims for loss of pension rights, and for aggravated and punitive damages – see 134 D.L.R.(3d) 727. Vorvis appealed.

The British Columbia Court of Appeal allowed the appeal to the extent of an award of $4,308 for loss of overtime salary – see 53 B.C.L.R. 63; 9 D.L.R.(4th) 40. Vorvis appealed.

The Supreme Court of Canada dismissed the appeal.

Damages – Topic 904

Aggravated damages defined – The Supreme Court of Canada defined aggravated damages and distinguished punitive damages – See paragraph 16.

Damages – Topic 912

Aggravation – In contract – For breach – The Supreme Court of Canada stated that aggravated damages may be awarded in actions for breach of contract in appropriate cases – See paragraph 21.

Damages – Topic 1296.1

Exemplary or punitive damages defined – The Supreme Court of Canada defined punitive damages and distinguished aggravated damages – See paragraph 16.

Damages – Topic 1297

Exemplary or punitive damages – When awarded – The Supreme Court of Canada stated that the limitations in Rookes v. Barnard (House of Lords) do not apply to Canada (see paragraph 24) – The court stated that punitive damages can only be awarded where there is a finding of the commission of an actionable wrong which caused the plaintiff’s injury – See paragraph 25.

Damages – Topic 1305

Exemplary or punitive damages – Breach of contract – The Supreme Court of Canada stated that in cases of breach of contract an award of punitive damages will be very rare – See paragraph 26.

Master and Servant – Topic 1221

Employment contract – Termination – General – The Supreme Court of Canada stated that an employment contract may be terminated by either employer or employee “and no wrong is done by the termination itself”; but the employee may be entitled to notice – See paragraph 13.

Master and Servant – Topic 1960

Remuneration – Pension benefits, on dismissal – Vorvis, an employee, was a member of a pension plan which provided for contributions by both the employer and employee and provided for a vesting after ten years – After seven years’ employment Vorvis was wrongfully dismissed – Pursuant to a clause in the pension plan Vorvis was refunded his contributions but not the employers’ – The Supreme Court of Canada dismissed Vorvis’ claim for damages for loss of pension rights – See paragraphs 6 to 13.

Master and Servant – Topic 8063

Dismissal without cause – Damages – Mental distress – An employee was wrongfully dismissed and claimed damages for mental distress as a result of his dismissal – The Supreme Court of Canada affirmed the dismissal of the employee’s claim because the conduct complained of preceded the wrongful dismissal and the claim did not result from the dismissal – See paragraphs 21 to 23.

Cases Noticed:

Gillespie v. Bulkley Valley Forest Industries Ltd., [1973] 6 W.W.R. 551 (B.C.S.C.), refd to. [para. 10].

Sloan v. Union Oil Co. of Canada (1955), 16 W.W.R.(N.S.) 225 (B.C.S. C.), dist. [para. 11].

Wilson v. Rudolph Werlitzer Co. (1934), 194 N.E. 441 (Ohio C.A.), dist. [para. 11].

Kern v. City of Long Beach (1947), 179 P.2d 799, dist. [para. 11].

Police Pension and Relief Bd. of City and County of Denver v. Bills (1961), 366 P.2d 581, dist. [para. 11].

London Export Corp. Ltd. v. Jubilee Coffee Roasting Co. Ltd., [1958] 2 All E.R. 411, refd to. [para. 13].

Tippett v. International Typographical Union Local 226 (1976), 71 D.L.R.(3d) 146 (B.C.S.C.), refd to. [para. 14].

Jarvis v. Swan Tours Ltd., [1973] 1 All E.R. 71 (C.A.), refd to. [para. 14].

Cringle v. Northern Union Insurance Co. (1981), 124 D.L.R.(3d) 22, refd to. [para. 14].

Cox v. Philips Industries Ltd., [1976] 3 All E.R. 161 (Q.B.), refd to. [para. 14].

Pilon v. Peugeot Canada Ltd. (1980), 114 D.L.R.(3d) 378 (Ont. H.C.), refd to. [para. 14].

Peso Silver Mines Ltd. (N.P.L.) v. Cropper, [1966] S.C.R. 673; 58 D.L. R.(2d) 1; 56 W.W.R.(N.S.) 641 (S.C.C.), refd to. [para. 14].

Harvey Foods Ltd. v. Reed (1971), 3 N.B.R.(2d) 444; 18 D.L.R.(3d) 90 (C.A.), refd to. [para. 14].

Addis v. Gramophone Co., [1909] A.C. 488 (H.L.), refd to. [para. 15].

Heywood v. Wellers, [1976] 1 All E.R. 300 (C.A.), refd to. [para. 19].

Brown v. Waterloo Regional Board of Commissioners of Police (1982), 136 D.L.R.(3d) 49 (Ont. H.C.), refd to. [para. 19].

Pilato v. Hamilton Place Convention Centre Inc. (1984), 45 O.R.(2d) 652 (Ont. H.C.), refd to. [para. 20].

Speck v. Greater Niagara General Hospital (1983), 43 O.R.(2d) 611 (Ont. H.C.), refd to. [para. 20].

Bohemier v. Storwal International Inc. (1982), 142 D.L.R. 8 (Ont. H.C.), refd to. [para. 20].

Perkins v. Brandon University and Potter (1985), 35 Man.R.(2d) 177, refd to. [para. 20].

Abouna v. Foothills Provincial General Hospital Board (No. 2) (1978), 8 A.R. 94; 83 D.L.R.(3d) 333 (C.A.), refd to. [para. 20].

McMinn v. Town of Oakville (1978), 19 O.R.(2d) 366 (Ont. H.C.), refd to. [para. 20].

Rookes v. Barnard, [1964] A.C. 1129, refd to. [para. 24].

McElroy v. Cowper-Smith and Woodman, [1967] S.C.R. 425, refd to. [para. 24].

Paragon Properties Ltd. v. Magna Envestments Ltd. (1972), 24 D.L.R. (3d) 156 (Alta. C.A.), refd to. [para. 24].

Uren v. John Fairfax & Sons Pty. Ltd. (1966), 117 C.L.R. 118, refd to. [para. 24].

Fogg v. McKnight, [1968] N.Z.L.R. 330, refd to. [para. 24].

Robitaille v. Vancouver Hockey Club Ltd. (1981), 124 D.L.R.(3d) 228 (B.C.C.A.), refd to. [para. 25].

H.L. Weiss Forwarding Ltd. v. Omnus, [1976] 1 S.C.R. 776; 5 N.R. 511, refd to. [para. 25].

Warner v. Arsenault (1982), 53 N.S.R.(2d) 146; 109 A.P.R. 146 (C.A.), refd to. [para. 27].

Meyer v. Gordon (1981), 17 C.C.L.T. 1 (B.C.S.C.), refd to. [para. 27].

Antonaros v. SNC Inc. (1984), 6 C.C.E.L. 264 (Ont. H.C.), refd to. [para. 43].

Gordon v. Saint John Shipbuilding & Dry Dock Co. (1983), 47 N.B.R.(2d) 150; 124 A.P.R. 150 (N.B.Q.B.), refd to. [para. 43].

Cormier v. Hostess Food Products Ltd. (1984), 52 N.B.R.(2d) 288; 137 A.P.R. 288 (Q.B.), refd to. [para. 43].

Lightburn v. Mid Island Consumer Services Cooperative (1984), 4 C.C. E.L. 263 (B.C. Co. Ct.), refd to. [para. 43].

Hadley v. Baxendale (1854), 9 Ex. 341; 156 E.R. 145, refd to. [para. 44].

Bliss v. South East Thames Regional Health Authority, [1987] I.C.R. 700, refd to. [para. 45].

Hayes and anor v. Dodds, [1988] N.L.J. 259, refd to. [para. 45].

Victoria Laundry (Windsor Ltd.) v. Newman Industries Ltd., [1949] 2 K.B. 528 (C.A.), refd to. [para. 47].

Koufos v. R. Czarnikow Ltd. (Heron II), [1969] 1 A.C. 350 (H.L.), refd to. [para. 47].

Newell v. Canadian Pacific Airlines Ltd. (1976), 14 O.R.(2d) 752 (Ont. Co. Ct.), refd to. [para. 48].

Cook v. Swinfen, [1967] 1 W.L.R. 457 (C.A.), refd to. [para. 48].

Guildford v. Anglo-French Steamship Co. (1883), 9 S.C.R. 303, refd to. [para. 50].

Cardinal Construction Ltd. v. The Queen in right of Ontario (1981), 32 O.R.(2d) 575 (H.C.), refd to. [para. 51].

Dale Perusse Ltd. v. Kason (1985), 6 C.P.C.(2d) 129 (Ont. H.C.), refd to. [para. 52].

Noranda Mines Ltd. v. Seaboard Surety Co. (1985), 8 O.A.C. 316; 7 C.C.E.L. 227 (Div. Ct.), refd to. [para. 52].

Centennial Centre of Science and Technology v. VS Services Ltd. (1982), 40 O.R.(2d) 253 (H.C.), refd to. [para. 52].

Delmotte v. John Labatt Ltd. (1978), 22 O.R.(2d) 90 (H.C.), refd to. [para. 52].

Nantel v. Parisien (1981), 18 C.C.L.T. 79 (Ont. H.C.), refd to. [para. 52].

Edwards v. Lawson Paper Converters Ltd. (1984), 5 C.C.E.L. 99 (Ont. H.C.), refd to. [para. 53].

New Brunswick Electric Power Commission v. International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 1733 (1978), 22 N.B.R.(2d) 364; 39 A.P.R. 364 (Q.B.), refd to. [para. 53].

Makarchuk v. MidTransportation Services Ltd. (1985), 6 C.C.E.L. 169 (Ont. H.C.), refd to. [para. 53].

Thom v. Goodhost Foods Ltd. (1987), 17 C.C.E.L. 89 (Ont. H.C.), refd to. [para. 53].

Central Trust Co. v. Rafuse and Cordon, [1986] 2 S.C.R. 147; 69 N.R. 321; 75 N.S.R.(2d) 109; 186 A.P.R. 109, refd to. [para. 56].

Authors and Works Noticed:

Chitty on Contracts (25th Ed. 1983), p. 460 [para. 13].

Fridman, The Law of Contract in Canada (2nd Ed. 1986), p. 675 [para. 42].

Grossman, B. and Marcus, S., New Developments in Wrongful Dismissal Litigation (1982), 60 Can. Bar Rev. 656, p. 668 [para. 42].

Restatement on the Law of Contracts in the United States (2nd Ed.), s. 355 [para. 25].

Waddams, The Law of Damages (2nd Ed. 1983), pp. 562 [para. 16]; 576, 577 [para. 50].


F.A. Schroeder, for the appellant;

Robert H. Guile, Q.C., and D.G. Cowper, for the respondent.

Solicitors of Record:

Laxton, Pidgeon & Company, Vancouver, British Columbia, for the appellant;

Russell & DuMoulin, Vancouver, British Columbia, for the respondent.

This appeal was heard by Beetz, Estey, McIntyre, Lamer, Wilson, Le Dain and L’Heureux-Dubé, JJ., on October 20, 1987.

On May 4, 1989, the Supreme Court delivered and filed the following opinions in both official languages:

McIntyre, J. – see paragraphs 1 to 29;

Wilson, J., dissenting – see paragraphs 30 to 62.

Beetz and Lamer, JJ., concurred with McIntyre, J.

L’Heureux-Dubé, J., concurred with Wilson, J.

Estey and Le Dain, JJ., took no part in the judgment.


Vorvis v. Insurance Corporation of British Columbia

[1989] 1 SCR 1085

Supreme Court of Canada
Reading Time:
45 minutes
Beetz, Estey, L’Heureux-Dubé, Lamer, Le Dain, McIntyre, Wilson 

McIntyre, J.
: This appeal raises questions concerning the amount and nature of damages which may be payable in an action for wrongful dismissal from employment. The appellant is a fifty-four year old solicitor who commenced employment as a junior solicitor in the respondent’s legal department in September of 1973. His employment terminated on January 20, 1981. The respondent initially purported to dismiss for cause, that is, incompetence, but, as the trial judge determined, it had no cause for dismissal. The trial judge, therefore, found that the plaintiff was wrongfully dismissed and that he was entitled to damages. Upon his dismissal the appellant received salary until February 15, 1981, a period of about one month, and he was able to obtain new employment, but not as a lawyer, on September 15, 1981, some seven months since his last payment. At trial, it was agreed by counsel that damages should be assessed on the basis of a seven month notice requirement, because the plaintiff was able to mitigate his loss by finding other employment at a similar salary by September 15, 1981.

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