Unfortunately, being injured in an accident is relatively common. Medical bills and losses from being unable to work can pile up. Sometimes someone else may be to blame for your accident, and you can take action against them to protect your family’s financial future.

Slip and fall accidents are particularly common. They can occur anywhere, including in public places like sidewalks. If you are injured on a sidewalk, it is important to consider possible municipal liability. This is because municipalities must keep them in a reasonable state of repair.

This article recaps the principles of municipal liability. It then looks at a recent Ontario Superior Court of Justice decision in which a woman injured after tripping on stones scattered on a public sidewalk sued the town.

Municipalities are required to maintain highways and bridges

According to Ontario’s Municipal Act, the municipality with jurisdiction over a highway or bridge must keep it in a state of repair that is reasonable in the circumstances. If the municipality does not comply with this duty, it is liable for the damages that a person sustains because of the default, subject to the Negligence Act.

Suppose the plaintiff is able to prove that the municipality failed to keep the highway or bridge in a reasonable state of repair and that this caused the accident. In that case, the legislation contains three defences which the municipality may seek to rely upon.

Firstly, the municipality will not be liable if it did not know and could not reasonably have been expected to have known about the state of repair. Secondly, liability is avoided if the municipality takes reasonable steps to prevent the default from arising. Finally, the municipality is not liable if it complies with applicable minimum maintenance standards established by the Minister of Transportation. 

Sidewalks also need to be kept in a reasonable state of repair

Even though the legislation specifically refers to highways and bridges, courts have consistently held that sidewalks are included. Therefore, municipalities must also keep sidewalks in a reasonable state of repair.

A common issue with sidewalks is the presence of vertical height differences, for example, due to cracking in the sidewalk or height differences between different slabs. We have previously reported on a case where a person tripped on the raised edge of a sidewalk. The City escaped liability because the difference between the sidewalk slabs was less than two centimetres. The judge decided that the sidewalk was in a reasonable state of repair because the applicable minimum maintenance standard allowed a maximum height differential of two centimetres.

Can claims also be made where objects are on the sidewalk, as opposed to a structural defect with the sidewalk itself?

Plaintiff tripped and fell on stones scattered on the sidewalk

In Strilchuck v Town of Tecumseh, the 57-year-old plaintiff was out walking her dog in a park in Tecumseh. When she reached the street, she began walking on the sidewalk after checking for traffic.

There was a tree planted in the park to the right of the sidewalk. The tree’s base was surrounded by stones approximately two to three inches in diameter. Some of these stones had made their way onto the sidewalk.

The plaintiff did not look down at the sidewalk. She tripped on the stones and fell onto her knees and face, losing consciousness. She injured her nose and lost a tooth.

Plaintiff argued that the Town was required to take steps to prevent the accident

The plaintiff argued that the Town failed to keep the sidewalk in a reasonable state of repair. Specifically, she claimed that there was no barrier to keep the stones from migrating from the tree to the sidewalk and no warning sign.

The Town explained that it did an annual examination of the sidewalk and that there had been no record of any deficiency in the sidewalk in the preceding two-year period.

Could a person using ordinary care pass safely along the sidewalk?

Justice King cited authority for the proposition that:

“The duty on the municipality is to keep the sidewalks in repair which is to say in such a condition that a person using ordinary care for his or her own safety can pass along it in safety. In my view it would be requiring the impossible of a municipality to require that it maintain all its sidewalks in perfect level. … it does not follow because an accident happens, that a sidewalk is necessarily in a state of non-repair.”

His Honour agreed that municipalities can’t maintain all sidewalks at a perfect level, mainly when the issue is the addition of a foreign object rather than a problem with the sidewalk itself. 

Sidewalk was not in a state of non-repair

Based on a photograph of the scene, his Honour decided that a person using ordinary care could pass the stones safely as they were easily visible and avoidable. The plaintiff was not looking where she was going. As such, the sidewalk was not in a state of non-repair.

Importantly, the court did not rule out successful claims based on objects on sidewalks. His Honour distinguished this case from a previous one in which a municipality was found liable due to the presence of a metal object on the sidewalk. In that case, the municipality knew of the existence of the object and did not take steps to remove it.

Contact Tierney Stauffer LLP for Advice on Slip and Fall Accidents

Suppose you have been injured in a slip slip-and-fall accident, whether on a sidewalk or not. In that case, the experienced personal injury lawyers at Tierney Stauffer LLP can help you determine whether someone else may be at fault and whether you have a claim. We will protect your legal rights and help you obtain compensation to move on with your life. Contact us at 1-888-799-8057 or reach out online to set up a consultation today.

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