Let it Snow: Statutory Protections from Liability in the MGA
By Kelsey Becker Brookes
Reynolds Mirth Richards Farmer LLP
AMSC Casual Legal Service Provider
A recent decision from a Master of the Court of Queen’s Bench confirms that the obligation on municipalities to address snow and ice on roads and sidewalks is limited. The Plaintiff slipped and fell on a windrow behind her car. The windrow was in an ‘S’ shape as a result of the City plowing around a neighbour’s parked car and was approximately one foot high. It had been there for roughly two weeks and the Plaintiff had successfully crossed it before, not finding it slippery. There were no complaints about the windrow and no evidence the municipality had any knowledge of the hazard.
The Court reviewed a number of statutory protections from liability found in the MGA:
- Section 529: A municipality that has the discretion to do something is not liable for deciding not to do that thing in good faith or for not doing that thing.
- Section 530(1): A municipality is not liable for damage caused by … a system of inspection … and … a system of maintenance.
- Section 531(1): A municipality is only liable for an injury to a person or damage to property caused by snow, ice or slush on roads or sidewalks in the municipality if the municipality is grossly negligent.
In dismissing the lawsuit, the Court confirmed there is no common law liability for policy decisions and the municipality could not be found liable in the circumstances for having an imperfect system of inspection and maintenance. The test is not whether the municipality could have done more, so long as the municipality is not acting irrationally or in bad faith.
With respect to s. 531(1), the MGA does not draw a distinction between the standard applicable to sidewalks or roads and the evidence was insufficient to demonstrate gross negligence, which requires a marked departure from the standard expected of a reasonable and competent person. As the municipality was not aware of the hazard and did not have sufficient opportunity to react to the impact of the freeze-thaw cycle on the windrow, the facts of the case did not overcome all of the protections built into the MGA.
Personal injury or property damage actions against municipalities related to snow and ice on roads and sidewalks are not uncommon; ensuring you have clear snow removal policies in place, which policies are properly carried out at the operational level, will provide your municipality with a strong position in the face of litigation.
To access AMSC’s Casual Legal Helpline, AUMA members can call toll-free to 1-800-661-7673 or email firstname.lastname@example.org and reach the municipal legal experts at Reynolds Mirth Richards and Farmer LLP. For more information on the Casual Legal Service, please contact Will Burtenshaw, Senior Director, Risk & Claims, at 780-431-4525, or toll-free at 310-AUMA (2862) or via email at email@example.com. Any Regular or Associate member of the AUMA can access the Casual Legal Service.
DISCLAIMER: This article is meant to provide information only and is not intended to provide legal advice. You should seek the advice of legal counsel to address your specific set of circumstances. Although every effort has been made to provide current and accurate information, changes to the law may cause the information in this article to be outdated.