Belanger v. Sudbury (Regional Municipality), 2017 ONCA 428

The Court of Appeal has upheld a trial judge’s decision finding the City of Sudbury negligent for failure to properly maintain a roadway during inclement winter conditions. Cities (and by extension winter maintenance contractors) are expected to respond to the potential of ice forming on roadways even while maintenance is underway. Even in the face of a roadway being cleared just prior to an accident a City may be found to have breached the standard of care in discharging a City’s obligation to maintain the roadway in good repair.

Released May 26, 2017 | Full Decision [CanLII]

The plaintiff was a 20 year old woman who was catastrophically injured when her vehicle crossed the center line and struck a bus head on in icy and snowy conditions. It was found that the City applied salt at 7:15 am on the morning of the accident but did not plow the roads until sometime between 10:15 and 11:15 as a result of machinery breakdown. Damages were agreed at $12 million and the only issue at trial was liability.

The City agreed that the road was in a state of ‘non repair’ at the time of the accident as a result of snow and ice accumulation but relied on the statutory defences in section 284(1.2) and 284 (1.3) of the Municipal Act. Section 284 (1.2) provides a defence if the City could not have known about the state of non-repair at the time of the accident and 284 (1.3) can be successfully invoked if the City can establish that it took reasonable steps to prevent the state of non-repair.

The trial judge made certain factual findings about the City’s maintenance standards such as the requirement for salting or sanding at least every two hours during the course of a storm followed by plowing in order to remove the snow and salt brine. The trial judge also accepted the expert evidence of the plaintiff that a failure to plow the brine in a reasonable period will result in a refreeze. In that case, subsequent plowing activity will remove the surface snow but not the ice underneath. At trial the defendant did not lead expert evidence on this issue.

The court found that the road was plowed within the hour prior to the accident which occurred at 11:15am. However, by that time the ‘salt had been overwhelmed by the snowfall’ and the plow likely only removed the surface layer of snow on top of the ice. The expert evidence of the plaintiff, accepted by the trial judge was that the salting and plowing protocol should have occurred continuously and consistently during the duration of the snowfall.

The plaintiff’s expert conceded that even if everything had occurred as it should have, it would have been challenging for the City to maintain the road in a way that prevented a re-freeze given the nature of the storm. The City was faced with equipment failures that were in part responsible for the delay in salting and plowing the road that were perhaps beyond their control. However, the Court found that sub-contractors were working in the area and could have been re-directed by the City to undertake some of the salting and plowing that may have prevented ice from forming and other equipment may have been available for the City to utilize. The City was expected to adapt to changing circumstances and to utilize and re-direct resources as required rather than blindly following a system.

Read the full decision on CanLII
Einav Shlomovitz
Written by

Einav practices exclusively in civil litigation. Her practice focuses on motor vehicle accident, accident benefits, occupier’s liability, slip/trip and falls, dog bites, medical malpractice, solicitor negligence, class action, employment and sexual assault claims.

During her free time, Einav takes improv and Spanish lessons. She enjoys being active, traveling, and spending time with family and friends.