Canada is known as a rich, vibrant democracy that is the envy of the world. Unfortunately, Canada is also famous for its harsh winters. Though winter sports and snowbirds are some of the positives of this season, winter is far less appealing when it entails chores such as shoveling driveways or the act of walking on potentially slippery surfaces. These days, the weather is increasingly varied, with significant and rapid temperatures fluctuations in the winter. This can lead to wet conditions one day, and sudden icy and cold conditions the next day. Sprinkled with a dusting of snow, pedestrians may find they have walked into dangerously slippery conditions. Definitely not the most fun to experience, but hey…this is Canada after all!
The good news is, if you are injured from a slip and fall on a city sidewalk, you may be entitled to compensation depending on the circumstances. In order to determine if you would qualify for compensation under the law, there are 5 major factors to consider:
1) Start the Clock:
This is one of the most important things to do. Generally, you have 10 days to put the city on notice of your slip and fall and your (possible) intention to start a lawsuit for damages. If you fail to provide this notice, you may be prevented from proceeding with a lawsuit. While there are exceptions to this rule, these are rare and generally involve medical incapacity sufficient to stop the clock. However, you can expect that such issues will be the subject of litigation.
2) Determine if the sidewalk was maintained:
Municipalities have an obligation to ensure that its sidewalks are reasonably maintained in the winter. This means that there needs to be policies and procedures in place for addressing snow and ice accumulation. A failure to have winter maintenance procedures
3) The standard to prove the city’s negligence:
The city is only liable if they are “grossly negligent”. This is usually the major issue requiring trial. City lawyers do not have to prove that the city did not make any mistakes. Likewise, a plaintiff will not win their case if they show the city made some mistakes. All the city has to do is show either that it had a reasonable clearance program in place and was following it or it acted within a reasonable time after receiving notice of an unusual condition.
In determining whether the city is grossly negligent, courts have considered a number of factors including the length of time the dangerous conditions existed; the knowledge or imputed notice to the city of the dangerous conditions; the inherently dangerous condition of the sidewalk regardless of whether snow or ice was present; the knowledge or imputed notice to the city that the ice and snow would exacerbate such conditions; the amount of pedestrian traffic expected on a particular street; and the reasonableness of the expectation that the city would rectify the dangerous condition prior to the accident.
For example, if a lawyer of ice had been allowed to remain on a level sidewalk for two or three days and the city was aware or ought to have been aware of this dangerous condition, then it would constitute gross negligence on the part of the city. The city may also be found grossly negligent if it decided not perform its duty according to its own policy, or if the policy itself is ineffective in removing ice and/or snow from the sidewalks.
4) Municipalities vigorously defend slip and fall lawsuits
Imagine how many kilometres of sidewalk line a city’s roads. Imagine further how many people walk down a particular sidewalk on a given day. Some sidewalks, such as in downtown cores, receive greater foot traffic than others. Canadian winters can be lengthy. There are likely hundreds or more slip and falls in a given area throughout the winter and the injuries can be minimal, if any, to severe, with damages being different in each case.
That is why each slip and fall case is decided by a Court on its own particular facts. Because of the high standard of proof required (gross negligence), a city will do what it can to show that it is not liable and to limit the amount of damages that can be recovered at trial. Municipalities will not shy away from trial. Therefore, you have to do what you can to ensure you are able to prove the relevant facts, such as your knowledge of the weather and where exactly you fell.
5) You may be found to have contributed to your injuries
The city will attempt to show that you were the author of your own misfortune. City lawyers will allege that you were wearing inappropriate shoes for the weather, that you should have taken an alternative route or that that you were inebriated. While this will not completely absolve the city of liability but it could help considerably reduce the extent to which they are liable.
Remember, just because you do injure yourself on a sidewalk, doesn’t mean you automatically get a payout from the government. There are certain requirements. But remember these factors, so that if this unfortunate event does happen to you, you know exactly what legal rights and remedies upon which you can rely.