On the morning of January 6, 2016, a 46 year old Ottawa man was fatally injured in a tragic car accident when he lost control of his vehicle on a Highway 416 overpass, his car flipping over the guardrail and landing on its roof on Highway 417 below, barely missing three other vehicles. Before completing their investigation of the crash, Ottawa police commented that they did not believe the man had been speeding or that alcohol was a factor in the accident.
At the time the accident occurred, snow had accumulated on the shoulder of the Highway 416 overpass, despite the driving lane being plowed and salted. A Ministry of Transportation representative stated that the contractor hired to remove snow from Ottawa highways had been working non-stop during the past week to remove snow on the shoulders and around guardrails on highways. However, snow removal on the shoulder of the Highway 416 ramp was not yet fully completed.
What are a Municipality’s obligations for winter road safety?
There are circumstances in which a Municipality’s failure to live up to its obligations to keep roads in good repair may contribute to car accidents. Municipalities can be held liable for injuries that result from unsafe conditions on roads if they did not take reasonable care to keep road users safe. Specifically, under Section 44 of Ontario’s Municipal Act, municipalities are required to maintain bridges and roads in a reasonable state of repair, which includes ice and snow removal. On this issue, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in Ingles v. Tutkaluk Construction that municipalities have a duty of care to anyone it is reasonable to foresee might be injured by their negligence in inspecting the properties for which they are responsible.
Municipalities are also obligated to take reasonable steps to prevent unsafe conditions from occurring and to fix hazards of which they should have been aware. The Minimum Maintenance Standards for Ontario Highways defines the minimum standards for road and bridge maintenance for municipalities. Under these regulations, the requirements for keeping roads clear of ice and snow varies with the amount of traffic and speed for each specific roadway. By law, roads with higher traffic volumes and speeds require more frequent inspection and clearing of ice and snow. For example, roads with the highest priority within a particular municipality are classified as ‘class 1’ and maintenance for these roads requires the following actions: they must be inspected at least three times weekly; during the winter, weather forecasts must be checked at least three times every day; and specific requirements for snow removal and treating icy road conditions must be met.
In Giuliani v. Region of Halton, 2010, a woman sued the Municipality after she suffered catastrophic injuries resulting from a car accident on an icy and snow-covered arterial road. The judge in this case found the Town of Milton liable for Ms. Giuliani’s injuries because the Municipality did not take reasonable steps to salt and clear the ‘class 1’ roadway before the busy morning commute. Contributing to the judge’s decision is the fact that a weather forecast on the evening prior to the accident predicted a high probability of significant snow accumulation. Ms. Giuliani was found contributorily negligent (50%) as she was deemed to have been driving too fast during the poor road conditions, and consequently, received half of the $750,000 in awarded damages.
In a similar case, Montani v. Matthews, 1996, a driver who was being sued for serious injuries caused to her passenger, made a third-party claim against the Ontario Ministry of Transportation for failing to keep the highway in proper repair as defined in the Municipal Act, s. 33. The collision resulted when the car lost control on some black ice that had formed on a Highway 8 bridge, spanning the Grand River in Kitchener. The judge ruled that the Ontario Ministry of Transportation and the driver of the car were each 50% liable for the car accident and the resulting injuries, and damages of $200,000 were awarded. The Ministry was deemed negligent because there was a known propensity for black ice to form on this particular bridge and the Ministry breached its statutory duty by not fixing this dangerous condition, when they should have known that ice would likely develop under the winter conditions on the day of the accident.
If you were seriously injured in a car accident and believe improper road maintenance was a factor in your accident, you have the right to make a claim against the responsible government body. There are timelines for notifying a municipality or the province of a claim for injury compensation. Municipalities require that your claim is filed within 7 days of the accident and notification of a claim against the Ministry of Transportation or another provincial or county jurisdiction must be filed within 10 days. Exceptions to these deadlines will be made only if there are unusual circumstances that prevented you from timely notification.
If you have any questions about your rights or options with respect to injuries resulting from an accident, we invite you to contact our office for a free initial consultation with one of our highly experienced lawyers. We offer knowledgeable and compassionate representation in personal injury claims against negligent persons, corporations and municipalities, as well as in insurance disputes over owed benefits. Call us to today to find out how we can help.
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