Interpreting Releases: Ontario

As part of settlement in litigation , it is customary for parties to sign a release. However on occasion, courts have subsequently been called upon to interpret the signed release to determine its scope and what was in the contemplation of the parties when they signed the document.

In Ontario, the courts have regard to five key principles for determining what was in the contemplation of the parties when interpreting the release in question:

1. One looks first to the language of the release to find its meaning.

2. Parties may use language that releases every claim that arises, including unknown claims. However, courts will require clear language to infer that a party intended to release claims of which it was unaware.

3. General language in a release will be limited to the thing or things that were specifically in the contemplation of the parties when the release was given.

4. When a release is given as part of the settlement of a claim, the parties want to wipe the slate clean between them.

5. One can look at the circumstances surrounding the giving of the release to determine what was specially in the contemplation of the parties.

William Poulos, Barrister

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