A Slippery Slope: Alberta Court dismisses slip and fall claim against municipality
By Jeffrey Daniels
Reynolds Mirth Richards Farmer LLP
AMSC Casual Legal Service Provider
In a recent decision by the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench, a municipality successfully relied on sections 530 and 531(1) of the Municipal Government Act to have a personal injury claim dismissed.
The claim was brought after a slip and fall on a municipal lane resulted in the plaintiff suffering serious injuries. Early one February morning, the plaintiff was walking to work on her regular route when she encountered an icy and “impassable” patch of sidewalk. To avoid the icy patch, she stepped onto the lane where she slipped on black ice and fell. The plaintiff’s injuries included a fractured vertebrae and broken arm.
The municipality sought summary dismissal of the claim, relying on sections 530 and 531(1) of the Municipal Government Act.
Section 530 provides that municipalities are not liable for damage caused by a system of inspection or maintenance, including the manner in which inspections and maintenance are performed, or the frequency, infrequency, or absence of inspections and maintenance.
Section 531(1) provides that a municipality is only liable for an injury caused by snow, ice or slush on roads or sidewalks if the municipality is grossly negligent.
The Court reviewed the municipality’s snow removal policy and determined there was no obligation for the municipality to attend to the particular stretch of sidewalk or lane where the accident occurred, or to perform spot checks or inspections.
The Court emphasized the high standard that must be met to establish gross negligence, which has been described in past cases as “very great negligence” and “very marked departure from standards by which the responsible and competent people typically govern themselves.” The Court reviewed past cases where gross negligence was established for slippery walkways and extracted four common elements:
- the danger posed by the hazard is obvious;
- there is a persistent presence of the danger in that it must exist for at least some period of time;
- there is actual or imputed knowledge on the part of the municipality or its employees; and
- even with knowledge, the municipality must have a meaningful opportunity to remedy the situation.
Importantly, there was no evidence the municipality had knowledge of the icy lane. Furthermore, environmental records showed it was possible the slippery patch was caused by precipitation the evening prior to the accident, which meant that no municipal employees were on duty and capable of discovering the hazard prior to the accident. The Court dismissed the case, concluding: “not doing something about a thing it does not know about and cannot know about cannot be the basis of a finding of gross negligence.”
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