While many such injuries are brushed aside as mere personal error, in certain cases municipalities have been found responsible for injuries when the claimant proves that minimum maintenance standards have not been met.
But it is also the responsibility for homeowners and building owners to ensure their private space is cleared. According to Toronto city bylaws, ice and snow must be cleared in front of an individual or businesses property within 12 hours of an ice storm, for example, and those that don’t can be fined $125. Additionally, city maintenance can take on the project themselves, passing the costs on to the homeowner through fines or an increase in property taxes. This is imperative for protecting the health and safety of homeowners and any and all passerby’s. In civil litigation and personal injury lawsuits, the defendant must prove that they provided a reasonable standard of care, such as ensuring that all snow is removed and driveways and walkways sufficiently salted. In cases where the affected area is controlled by the municipality, such as sidewalks and government property, however, even more stringent rules apply.
In one case in Ottawa, a self-employed hairdresser slipped and fell on an icy sidewalk, breaking her ankle. During her five months of recuperation, she lost most of her clients, and ended up closing her business as a result. Additionally, she experienced long-term effects from the accident that affected her mobility and quality of life. The claimant was able to prove that the city was aware of the risks because of the icy conditions, and were guilty of gross negligence for reducing winter maintenance to save costs despite being aware that accidents could occur as a result. As a result, she was awarded over $200,000 in damages and loss of past and future income.
Municipalities are responsible for ensuring the safety of citizens, and minimum maintenance standards vary from town to town. Because the law is variable and often unclear on the minimum standards for public areas such as sidewalks, it can often be unclear of how culpable a city can be for personal injury. Additionally, personal responsibility can come into play through “contributory negligence,” such as inappropriate footwear or insufficient awareness of their surroundings. Judges will also take into consideration the reasonableness of the victim’s claims to ensure that the municipality is not ruled against unfairly. A judge in a separate case noted that “road conditions produced by winter storms are definitely in a state of flux and can turn from safe to treacherous in a matter of minutes.” Deciding whether the municipality had sufficient time and resources to address the problem is clearly important in deciding cases and awarding damages.
However, municipalities are ultimately responsible for the safety and well-being of residents. It is imperative that victims of slips and falls in public areas due to uncleared snow and ice must provide a written notice of their intention to sue within 10 days so that the municipality can investigate the situation. If you have been injured due to unsafe public roads and sidewalks, contact a personal injury lawyer as soon as possible to determine whether the municipality is responsible for your injuries, health care costs, and loss of wages or salary.