Area of Law: Personal Injury
Answer # 484
Suing a municipality or cityRegion: Ontario Answer # 484
If you fall, or are injured in some other manner on municipal property, you may be entitled to sue for compensation for your injuries. Under the Municipal Act, municipalities owe a duty to pedestrians to ensure their safety on their properties. This includes public buildings, parks, walkways as well as roads and sidewalks frequented by pedestrians.
Generally, you can sue a municipality in cases where their properties are unsafe for pedestrians. Municipal property includes property:
- owned by a municipality,
- operated by a municipality, and / or
- under their jurisdiction, such as sidewalks.
Unsafe conditions can arise in a number of circumstances, including but not limited to:
- trip ledges,
- slippery, snowy or icy conditions on sidewalks, crosswalks, roads or laneways,
- broken, poorly repaired or poorly maintained pedestrian areas,
- deficient construction and/or design, and
- a host of other circumstances where pedestrians are placed at risk of injury.
Types of accidents
Slip, trip and fall accidents
Slip, trip and fall accidents often occur in wet or icy conditions, on dirty or slippery floors or on foreign objects and obstructions on the ground. Poor lighting, deficient handrails or unforeseen obstructions from asphalt repairs and patches can also contribute to the determination of who is at fault.
Common examples of slip and fall incidents include falling on:
- sidewalks or walkways that have not been cleared of snow or ice, that have not been repaired, or where repairs were deficient,
- wet, dirty or slippery floors on municipal properties, public parks, recreation facilities and attractions, and
- a wide variety of the many operations that municipalities undertake.
Suing a municipality over injury due to snow removal activities
The Supreme Court of Canada ruled in October 2021 that people can sue municipalities over injuries resulting from city snow removal services. Canada’s top court ruled that municipalities are “not immune from negligence or liability claims stemming from snow removal”. The seven Supreme Court justices had to decide on the legal distinction between “core policy decisions” made by governments, which are immune from liability and negligence claims, and “operational decisions” that are made while implementing policy, which are subject to liability claims.
Ultimately, the Court decided that snow removal is an “operational decision”.
Although in most cases injuries occur when a pedestrian slips, trips and/or falls on municipal property, injuries sustained in other situations may also be the responsibility of the municipality, if the incident occurred on municipal property, such as injuries from:
- construction materials falling on a pedestrian,
- defective equipment, such as elevators or automatic revolving doors closing on a person,
- unsafe utilities and essential services, such as unclean water or electrical malfunctions,
- toxic materials or gases not contained or disposed of safely, and so on.
Test for determining liability
The test for determining liability (fault) varies, depending on whether the accident occurred on:
- property occupied by the municipality, which is governed by the Occupiers’ Liability Act, or
- roads and sidewalks under the jurisdiction of the municipality, which is goverened by the Municipal Act.
In addition, your right to start an action can be based on whether the area of your fall was not made safe or if the work done to make it safe was deficient.
Liability of third party
In certain cases, there may also be liability on a person or company hired by the municipality, such as a contractor hired by a municipality to conduct maintenance or repairs on its behalf.
Liability will, of course, depend on the specific facts of each case.
Limitation periods for claims against municipalities
In most circumstances, the law requires that you start your lawsuit for personal injuries sustained on municipal property within two years of the date of your accident. There are certain exceptions to that strict requirement for minors, for example. It is a good idea to consult an experienced lawyer to determine your potential limitation date.
In addition, slips, trips and falls on city highways (such as, roads, boulevards, sidewalks and laneways) require that the injured party give notice to a municipality in a particular form and manner. For a municipality, written notice must be served on the city clerk’s office within ten days of your accident. The Municipal Act sets out how and to whom notice is to be given and the information that must be presented.
Failure to give notice
While failure to give notice is no longer fatal to a claim, it is advisable to consult an experienced personal injury lawyer as soon as possible to ensure that you do not lose your right to make a claim. Also, preserving the evidence of what caused you to fall, such as taking photographs and obtaining witness information, are important steps that you can take to assure the success of your claim.
Compensation for injuries
When you commence a legal action against a municipality for your injuries, you can make a claim for:
- your pain and suffering,
- your out-of-pocket expenses,
- loss of income (past, present and future), your
- future care costs, and
- loss of care, guidance and companionship for certain family members affected by your accident.
The type and amount of damages you can claim will depend on the particular facts of your case. The amount of compensation you receive will depend on what the extent of your injury is, and how it affects your life. The court will often take into account:
- your age,
- whether you have any pre-existing injuries or conditions that impact on your damages, and
- whether you did, or failed to do anything that may have contributed to your accident.
The amount assessed for your pain and suffering will be viewed in the context of what the Court has previously awarded in cases involving similar injuries for people in comparable situations.
Before agreeing to a settlement
Before considering a settlement of your claim, you should give careful consideration to the value of all the damages you have suffered, and may continue to suffer for years to come. In addition, it is advisable to ensure that qualified opinions are sought from treating doctors or experts who can comment on the long-term effects of your accident on you and your loved ones. An experienced lawyer can guide you through the assessment of all of your damages.
If you or someone you care about has been injured, contact our preferred Personal Injury experts, Nicola (Nick) Giannantonio Legal Services . They offer a free consultation and do not charge up-front fees.
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