Municipal Liability - Diamond and Diamond Lawyers
  • Friday, 14 January 2022

Municipal Liability

Living in the city has its perks, but it also comes with certain risks. If you suffer personal injury because of a poorly maintained road or while riding a public bus, you could sue the city for compensation. The municipal government is just as liable for personal injuries, due to negligence, like any other entity when it fails to provide the duty of care it owes to those living within its limits. 

However, suing a city or town in civil court for compensation is not easy. It requires a skilled and knowledgeable personal injury lawyer steeped in municipal liability law to pull it off.

The Law of Municipal Liability

Municipal liability in Ontario is a complex issue. Under Ontario’s Municipal Act, the government is responsible for public spaces, such as roads, highways, bridges, parks, and public services, such as public transport, police force, and firefighters. As such, local authorities owe civilians a duty of care and should ensure that these public accommodations and services will not cause undue property damage or personal injuries.

Municipal liability risk management

Municipalities have so many dealings with civilians, however, that the risk of something terrible happening on government property or within their jurisdiction for lack of inspection or maintenance is high. This is the reason personal injury lawsuits often cite municipalities as defendants.

To manage this risk, section 44 of the Municipal Act placed limits on the liability of local authorities for the maintenance of public roads and highways and buildings and structures, which is governed by the Occupiers’ Liability Act.  Section 450 further limits liability by stipulating that a municipal or local government may not be held liable if “the action or inaction results from a policy decision.”

In essence, public liability stops when the local government can prove that the failure to maintain a road is because of a policy, i.e., delayed maintenance due to lack of funding. The same applies to anything that happens under the government’s jurisdiction if the situation results from a policy decision.

Negligence Act

Suppose local authorities fail to act in good faith to keep civilians reasonably safe, such as defaulting on their duty to keep a highway in a reasonable condition. In that case, municipal liability kicks in under the Negligence Act. If the city or local authorities are partially responsible for the injuries, they may be held jointly and severally liable to the victim of personal injury.

Accidents Caused By Municipal Negligence 

Accidents happen for many reasons, and no one is to blame. However, the whole idea behind negligence is the event or accident would not have occurred but for the action or inaction of a third party. That is the basis of municipal liability in the following examples:

Failure to Maintain a Highway

In the case of Just v. British Columbia, the plaintiff, John Just, and his daughter were travelling along a highway in British Columbia when a rock fell from the slope and hit their car. The accident killed the daughter and seriously injured Just. The lower court dismissed the negligence claim because highway maintenance was policy and protected from liability. Still, the Supreme Court sent it back for retrial and Just succeeded in his lawsuit.

Slip and Fall

In the case of Nelson (City) v. Marchi, the respondent, Taryn Joy Marchi, maintained that she suffered injuries due to the negligence of city personnel performing snow clearing activities. The slip and fall accident occurred because the snow plowing crew neglected to provide safe access to the sidewalk. The Supreme Court of Canada found that the city owed the respondent a duty of care and was not immune from liability.

Failure to Carry Out Inspection

In the case of Ingles v. Tutkaluk Construction Ltd., the plaintiff sued the contractor and the City of Toronto for failing to ensure the renovation work was up to the building code. The renovation resulted in flooding to the basement and significant property damage, and a subsequent inspection showed the initial work was defective.

While the plaintiff was partially responsible for not insisting on getting a building permit before the work began, the court eventually found that the building inspectors failed to carry out their duty to inspect the contractor’s work thoroughly. The Supreme Court of Canada found that the City was jointly and severally liable for 14% of the damages, and the contractor was liable for 80%,

None of the cases above resulted in a positive outcome for the aggrieved party in the first trial. They all went through the appeals process before a final resolution. The extensive arguments in the case laws are testament to the complexity of personal injury claims for public liability.

Factors that Contribute to a Municipality’s Liability for Car Accidents

While municipal liability is often open to interpretation, it would be good to know the factors contributing to it. Suppose you sustain serious injuries in an accident. In that case, you may be able to file a claim for compensation against local authorities if it was due to the following:

  • Broken Traffic Lights
  • Debris on Roads/Highways
  • Ice or Snow
  • Missing Guardrails
  • Missing or Inappropriate Road Signs
  • Uneven Roads/Pavements
  • Unrepaired Potholes

Negligence in Municipal Liability 

What to Prove

In any public liability case, the plaintiff must prove that gross negligence on the part of the city or municipality is the direct cause of the injuries sustained. Gross negligence means there was an apparent failure on the part of the government body in their duty of care.

The breach of their statutory duty may take the form of poor construction or maintenance of public property or failure to maintain safe conditions of sidewalks or other public areas.

Arguments for Negligence

  • Absence of policies to address potentially dangerous situations, i.e., slippery sidewalks.
  • Failure to exercise reasonable care when performing public maintenance work and repairs, i.e., no hazard lights for a stalled plow in the middle of the road.
  • Absence of warning signs of potentially dangerous situations, i.e., standing too close to a mesh fence at a hockey game.

The Obligations of the Municipality

Under Ontario’s Municipal Act, municipalities should keep public structures and areas in a “reasonable state of repair,” particularly highways, bridges, and sidewalks.

Under the Occupiers’ Liability Act, cities or municipalities’ public liability also extends to public buildings and areas such as parks within their control and jurisdiction.

Be ready to fight for your rights in a municipal liability case with the help of Diamond and Diamond. Contact us today to learn more about how we can assist you.

Pro Tip

“Get municipal liability insurance that can protect you from possible damages and accidents.”

– Diamond and Diamond

Municipal and Public Liability and Diamond & Diamond

People expect local and municipal authorities to act according to their duty of care to their citizens. When they, or the people that represent them, fail to exercise reasonable care in the day-to-day performance of their duties, people can suffer extensive injuries through no fault of their own.

However, proving public liability is tricky and requires extensive knowledge of municipal law and municipal liability risk management. What’s more, you need to file a claim within ten days of the incident, or you lose any chance of compensation. Therefore, you should not waste any time.

The personal injury lawyers at Diamond and Diamond understand the urgency and can help you file a claim within the prescribed period. Our lawyers are familiar with the requirements to push forward claims against cities and municipalities when seeking compensation for personal injuries and property damage.

Don’t hesitate to call our 24/7 injury hotline at 1-800-567-HURT right now if you or a loved one sustained an injury due to municipal negligence. You can also request an initial free consultation online so we can evaluate your case immediately.

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