Over the last several weeks, the weather in Ottawa and Eastern Ontario has been treacherous, with icy conditions throughout the City. Unfortunately, when properties, roads, pathways and sidewalks are not properly maintained, slip and fall injuries caused by ice and snow are bound to happen. If you’ve been injured in a slip and fall on municipal property, it is important to know that there are different rules concerning notice and liability for municipal sidewalks and roadways than there are for privately owned property.
The Municipal Act
Under subsection 44(1) of the Municipal Act, municipalities must keep highways and bridges over which they have jurisdiction in a “state of repair that is reasonable in the circumstances, including the character and location of the highway or bridge.” If a municipality fails to do so, then, pursuant to subsection 44(2) it is “liable for all damages any person sustains because of the default.”
However, a municipality has several defenses available to it under s. 44(3). This section states that a municipality will not be liable for failing to keep a highway or bridge in “a reasonable state of repair” if:
- The municipality did not, or could not have reasonably been expected to, know about the state of repair;
- The municipality took “reasonable steps” to prevent the default; or
- The municipality followed applicable minimum standards of repair established under s. 44(4) of the Municipal Act.
10-day Notice Period
Potential claims against municipalities are subject to a much shorter notice period than for private property owners. According to s. 44(10) of the Municipal Act:
No action shall be brought for the recovery of damages under subsection (2) unless, within 10 days after the occurrence of the injury, written notice of the claim and of the injury complained of, including the date, time and location of the occurrence, has been served upon or sent by registered mail to,
(a) the clerk of the municipality; or
(b) if the claim is against two or more municipalities jointly responsible for the repair of the highway or bridge, the clerk of each of the municipalities.
However, if a judge finds that there is a “reasonable excuse” and the municipality has “not been prejudiced”, then a plaintiff will not be barred from bringing an action.
Sidewalks and “Gross Negligence”
When it comes to sidewalks, municipalities are not liable for personal injuries caused by snow or ice unless there has been a case of “gross negligence” (s. 44(9) Municipal Act). The legislation does not define what constitutes “gross negligence” and the caselaw has not developed a firm definition, but rather a case-by-case approach.
In Crinson v. Toronto (City), 2010 ONCA 44 (CanLII), the Ontario Court of Appeal stated that gross negligence is more than a breach of duty of care and that whether a municipality has been grossly negligent will depend on the facts of the case. In that case, the plaintiff had suffered a fractured ankle when he slipped and fell on an icy sidewalk. While the trial judge had determined that the City was not grossly negligent, the Court of Appeal disagreed. The City had taken almost 34 hours to respond to the icy conditions on the sidewalks and did not have an explanation as to why it did not address the sidewalks when concerns regarding the weather first arose, although it had sent out road salters. The Court stated: “it has long been the law in Ontario that if a municipality permits a slippery, icy sidewalk in a busy area of the City to remain unprotected or ignores it altogether and someone is injured, that would constitute gross negligence.”
What should I do if I’ve been injured in a slip and fall on municipal property?
If you have fallen on municipal property and have been injured, the most important thing to do is to seek immediate medical attention. If you are able to, you should take pictures of the location of your fall. Keep a record of the date and time of the incident as well as any potential witnesses. You should also contact an experienced personal injury lawyer, who can ensure that the notice requirements under the Municipal Act are met. An experienced lawyer can advise you on the steps in the legal process as well as the damages that might be available to you.
If you have been injured on municipal property in Ottawa or anywhere across Eastern Ontario, contact one of our personal injury lawyers today for a free consultation. We can be reached: