Supreme Court of Canada Considering Municipal Snow Removal Standards and Obligations
April 06, 2021, Kitchener, Ontario
Posted by: Robert Deutschmann, Personal Injury Lawyer
Snow clearing and ice clearing in the winter are necessary evils of living in Canada. Slip and fall accidents in the winter are a major source of personal injuries. Car accidents due to uncleared or improperly cleared roads are also common. Municipalities have responsibilities to establish minimum standards and maintain snow clearing procedures for roads, sidewalks and other public spaces.
Personal Injury victims of accidents on public lands have been successful in suing local municipalities for damages in the past when negligence is proven on the part of the municipality. The message has been clear that the municipalities owe a duty of care to the people using the public spaces on foot or in a car.
The Supreme Court of Canada recently heard one such case. It involved all the intrigue of winter. A snowfall and snow clearing resulting in curbside snowbanks. The Court was asked to determine when the municipal government could be held liable for its decisions. Specifically, Ms. Taryn Marchi alleged that the City of Nelson, B.C. created a hazard while clearing snow from downtown streets after a snowstorm in January 2015.
Ms. Marchi alleges that the City cleared the snow off the roads, leaving snowbanks on the side of the road early on January 5. She parked at the side of the road in an angle spot later on January 6. She then tried to cross over the snowbank wearing her well treaded running shoes but dropped through the snow and fell down. She injured her leg and landed in the hospital.
She argued that the Municipality should have left or created openings in the snowbanks to allow for safe crossing by pedestrians from the parking spots to the sidewalk. She also argued that other neighbouring municipalities handled the snow clearing process differently.
The trial judge concluded that Ms. Marchi was the author of her misfortune when she chose to cross the snowbank. She assumed the risk. The B.C. Court of Appeal subsequently overturned the decision and ordered a new trial on the basis that the judge erred in addressingthe municipality's duty of care and issues of negligence on the part of Ms. Marchi.
Nelson B.C. subsequently appealed the decision to the Supreme Court of Canada citing its actions resulted from a “clear example of a core policy decision” and arguing it should be immune from liability in the case. The city actively balances its resources using written and unwritten snow removal policies “on a good faith exercise of discretion”.
Ms. Marchi argued that city employees made operational decisions that fell below the expected standard of care of a municipality. She also argued that the trial judge failed to properly address whether creating a hazard (the snowbank) and leaving it in place for 30 hours was reasonable in itself.
The decision will be an interesting one that may have long reaching implications to municipal budgets for snow clearing and liability in personal injury cases.
What to do if you've been hurt due to someone else's negligence
If you have been injured in a slip and fall accident due to negligence contact a personal injury lawyer at Deutschmann Personal Injury and Disability Law immediately. Timelines to file a claim can be very short and you'll need someone dedicated to working for you!
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