Who is responsible for slip and fall injuries on icy and snow covered sidewalks on residential streets?
Many municipalities in Ontario have by-laws that require residential home-owners and residents to clear the sidewalks in front of their houses. Newmarket, in York Region, has a by-law that requires snow and ice removal within 24 hours of the weather event (http://www.newmarket.ca/en/townhall/resourcelibrary/1996-38RemovalofSnowIcefromSidewalks.pdf). Municipalities in Vaughan, Richmond Hill, Oshawa, Whitby, Ajax, Toronto and Bowmanville etc. have similar by-laws.
Some people (and lawyers who do not practice enough personal injury law) assume that means that they are supposed to sue the home-owner or resident and not the municipality. They are usually wrong. There is specific case-law that talks about the Municipality’s responsibility and the fact that they cannot just pass the buck to the home-owner.
What that means is that you need to be aware of the potential for a claim against the City and the fact that very short notice periods (ie: 10 days in some cases) could apply. You need to seek immediate legal consultation after an accident, or right away – you should not delay this at all after a slip and fall injury.
There is of course also the potential for liability on the home owner in certain cases. In one case that I handled, a business had been power washing their docking bay during cold weather and water spread to the sidewalk and froze. My client slipped and fell on the ice sustaining injury. It was important that we sued both the City and the private business in that case.
What becomes extremely important in these cases is an analysis of the weather records and maintenance/inspection records that are available. The weather records help us to understand when the bad weather happened, how long it happened for and what the weather was like leading up to the accident. This helps us to understand what the defendants knew or ought to have known about the weather and the likely effect on the area (ie: an argument that if there was a lot of snow or rain, followed by freeze and thaw conditions, they should have known that ice was going to form). Remember, that these cases are not just about proving a fall and injury, they are about proving that the defendant failed to take reasonable steps to prevent the danger.
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