A City of Toronto staff report revealed that there were about 30,000 visits to hospital emergency rooms from 2009 to 2015 due to slips and falls on snow or ice. And, about 2,800 of these harmful events resulted in serious injuries with average hospital stays of 6 days. The 2016 report also disclosed that the City pays approximately $6.7 million annually for liability insurance claims arising from slips and falls on City sidewalks and roads.
Although many high-traffic sidewalks in the old section of Toronto are mechanically cleared by the City, in most of Toronto, a City of Toronto bylaw requires occupants and property owners to shovel their sidewalks within 12 hours of a snowfall or ice accumulation. Other municipalities in Ontario similarly have bylaws requiring residents to attend to snow and ice on their sidewalks, but in many cities, owners have 24 hours to do so before facing a potential fine.
In Milton, for example, the City of Milton clears sidewalks which have high volumes of pedestrian traffic, as well as sidewalks and pathways leading to schools and transit routes. However, property owners in all other areas of the City are obligated to clear snow and ice from their sidewalks within 24 hours of snowfall or ice accumulation.
In some communities, including Oakville and Burlington, the municipality has accepted responsibility for clearing sidewalks. The City of Oakville has set out the following standards for snow and ice removal:
- Primary and secondary roads (i.e. roads with the greatest traffic volume and highest speeds) are cleared first.
- Streets on bus routes also have a higher priority for clearing.
- Residential streets are cleared after snow accumulation is greater than 7.5 cms
- When all roads require clearing, the City’s goal is to complete this job within 24 hours after a storm, or as soon as is reasonably possible.
- Sidewalks on primary and secondary roads, as well as transit stops, are cleared after an accumulation of 5 cms of snow, after the roads have been cleared.
- Residential sidewalks are cleared after snow accumulation reaches 8 cms, but after the sidewalks on primary and secondary roads where schools are located have been cleared.
- Salting and sanding of roads begins with the busiest streets (i.e. primary roads)
- Salting and sanding of sidewalks is done only when they’re extremely slippery, and only sidewalks on primary and secondary roads are salted/sanded.
The City of Burlington has similar standards for municipal snow and ice removal.
Filing an Injury Lawsuit against the at fault Property Owner
If you were injured after slipping and falling on an icy sidewalk which is being maintained by the City of Oakville or another municipality, you may have grounds to claim compensation if the circumstances of your accident indicate that the City was ‘grossly negligent’ in their duties. Ontario’s Municipal Act s. 44(9) states, “except in case of gross negligence, a municipality is not liable for a personal injury caused by snow or ice on a sidewalk”. This means that the City may not be liable simply because they breached their duty of care. However, there may be a finding of gross negligence if the City knew or should reasonably have known that the sidewalk was icy or slippery but they did not take reasonable steps to fix the problem within a realistic time frame, or if they had no adequate procedures in place for dealing with unsafe sidewalk conditions. Also, the bar is set higher for clearing sidewalks on main thoroughfares, than for low traffic residential sidewalks.
If you were injured on municipal property and wish to make a claim for damages against a City, you must give written notice to the City clerk within 10 days of your accident. If your claim is submitted past this deadline, the claim may be dismissed unless you have a very compelling reason for the delay.
If you fell and sustained injuries after slipping on a sidewalk that’s supposed to be maintained by a private property owner, you are legally entitled to claim damages if the property owner was negligent in clearing snow or fixing the icy surface. In Ontario, the Occupiers’ Liability Act requires property owners, managers and occupiers to take reasonable actions to keep anyone coming onto their property safe. This law applies to office buildings, hospitals, parking lots, schools, grocery stores and other properties.
Claims against private property owners are not subject to the municipal 10-day notice requirement. However, all personal injury claims must be filed within 2 years of the date you became aware that you have grounds to make a claim against a negligent party, which is typically 2 years from the date of your accident.
Proving negligence for a fall on a slippery sidewalk depends on whether the owner failed to take reasonable steps to deal with the problem and whether they should have been aware of the unsafe condition. These types of personal injury claims against residential property owners are generally more difficult to win than car accident injury claims or personal injury claims relating to an unsafe condition at a retail establishment, restaurant or another business. However, a property owner is more likely to be found negligent and liable if they allowed water to accumulate and freeze on their sidewalk due to a faulty drainage condition or another circumstance, than if they simply failed to clear the snow on their sidewalk within the guidelines set out by the City.
In any circumstance where you became injured after slipping and falling on a sidewalk or road, your best course of action is to consult with an experienced slip and fall accident lawyer to find out whether you have strong grounds for a claim. At Stevenson Whelton MacDonald & Swan, our personal injury lawyers have helped hundreds of clients obtain fair compensation for their losses after they were injured in a fall. Call our office today to learn about your legal rights, given the unique circumstances of your fall.