The Occupiers’ Liability Act holds all Ontario property owners/occupiers liable for injuries to persons coming onto their premises if they failed to take reasonable care to keep people safe. Municipalities are further governed by the Municipal Act s. 44(9) and must be guilty of a higher degree of negligence than businesses or homeowners before being held liable for a slip and fall accident. Section 44(9) of the Municipal Act states that “Except in a case of gross negligence, a municipality is not liable for a personal injury caused by snow or ice on a sidewalk”.
Cities also require notification in writing within 10 days of an accident causing injury, and claimants may be barred from making a claim if they miss this deadline without a compelling reason for being late. This is a much stricter standard than the two years allowed for persons claiming damages against private citizens or businesses.
“Gross negligence” is not specifically defined by the Act, and the Courts rely on previous court decisions in determining whether a municipality was negligent in a particular case. As a general rule, a city or municipality must have done more than breach their duty of care in order to be guilty of gross negligence, as noted in McNulty v. Brampton (City) (2004).
A key issue in the personal injury lawsuit, Crinson v. City of Toronto, was whether the City of Toronto was grossly negligent and therefore, liable for injuries sustained by a man who slipped and fell on an ice-covered sidewalk. The plaintiff was a chef who suffered a severely fractured ankle after slipping on a sidewalk along Dundas Street, on his way home after work one evening. After his fall, the injured man was admitted to hospital where he underwent surgery to insert a permanent metal screw in his ankle and he then needed to wear a cast for 12 weeks. After the cast was removed, the plaintiff continued to have restricted mobility for some time and needed intensive physiotherapy for another 3 months. He was also prescribed Percocet for the pain, which is strong pain medication and effected the plaintiff’s state of mind for some time.
The plaintiff’s job as an executive chef at a large restaurant required significant mobility and he worked long hours on his feet. When he finally returned to work after his ankle had partially healed, he was initially only able to sit and observe the sous chef who took over his duties. And, even after he was well enough to complete most of his normal duties, his ability to work standing up for long hours was diminished and he could no longer take on a partnership in the restaurant as was discussed before he became injured. His family and the general manager testified that his mental health also suffered due to his injury; he became quiet, uncommunicative, worried about his carrier, irritable and depressed.
The Ontario Court of Appeal overruled a previous judgement and found that the City of Toronto was negligent and liable for the plaintiff’s injury. The Court awarded damages to the plaintiff in the previously agreed-upon amount of $288,000.
The Appeal Court noted that the City expressed a goal to be proactive and prevent dangerous conditions and yet, they only addressed icy conditions on City sidewalks if they received a complaint from a resident or if a City supervisor found that slippery conditions warranted that steps be taken. City supervisors are the only staff responsible for sidewalks and at the time of the accident, they relied on weather forecasts, City patrollers who monitor the roads, and their own observations when they occasionally inspected sidewalks. On the day before the accident, a City patroller called out road salters due to concerns about dangerous road conditions which, he testified, likely existed equally on sidewalks as the road. And, on the morning of the accident, another City patroller again called out road salters due to continuing slippery conditions. However, no action was taken to fix the sidewalks until a third City patroller became concerned about the sidewalk conditions at about 2 p.m., but because it took 12 hours to fix the slippery conditions and there was a drop in temperature and further precipitation, the sidewalks were not in safe condition when the plaintiff fell at 9 p.m. that evening.
Although dangerous weather conditions had been forecast and City workers were concerned about, and addressed, slippery road conditions, the City of Toronto did not begin to fix sidewalk conditions until almost 34 hours after the City became aware that conditions were dangerous. The Court asserted that a City is guilty of gross negligence when it ignores a dangerous condition or permits a slippery, ice sidewalk in a busy area to remain protected. In the current case, the City should reasonably have taken much earlier steps to salt or clear the sidewalks, similar to the actions they determined were required to keep the roads safe.