Legal Matters with Chris Richard – Municipal Roads, Safety Standards, and Liability

The issue of road safety is a key issue in motor vehicle law. An unsafe road can cause injury and accidents to even the most safety-conscientious driver.
Chris Richard, the managing partner of the personal injury law firm in St. Catharines, Graves and Richard, discussed this topic on Niagara’s 610 Newstalk Radio with host Lee Sterry, including the many factors that contribute to unsafe road conditions, such as potholes and the presence of ice and snow and debris on the road. During this airing, Chris talked about the provincially mandated standards municipalities are required to meet with respect to road safety, and when liability attaches to municipalities in the event that someone is injured on a municipal road.

Road Safety Rests With Municipalities

Generally speaking, the responsibility for maintaining roadways rests with municipal or regional governments. The provincial government has mandated that municipalities keep the roadways in their respective jurisdictions in a state of repair that is reasonable in light of all the circumstances, including the character and the location of the roadway.

With this positive duty, the provincial government has assigned liability consequences by providing that municipalities are responsible for any injury caused as a result of its failure to meet its mandate.
There are several reasons why the provincial government places this onus on municipalities. First, keeping the road safe is a vital public interest, and the creation of a positive obligation on municipalities is an important way to ensure road safety. Second, placing a positive onus to maintain safety standards ensures that municipalities are allocating sufficient financial resources in the face of competing priorities and initiatives.

Municipal Roads Safety Standards 

Before 2002, municipalities set their own standards of what was reasonable in terms of states of repair, and courts were ultimately responsible for judging those standards. In 2002, the Province of Ontario standardized service obligations with respect to roadways, and provided that if municipalities met those standards, they wouldn’t be held responsible for any personal injury claims and damages occurring as a result of a condition on a municipal road.

Different standards apply to municipal roads based on their respective assigned classification. All roadways are divided into classes based on the speed limit of the road, and the volume of traffic that travels on the road. There are six classes of roads. Regional roads that experience heavy traffic, for example, Geneva Street in St. Catharines, constitute one road classification. Another road classification encompasses typical residential streets. These two classifications are used as examples highlighting the differences in safety standards that apply with respect to various municipal road safety obligations throughout the remainder of this blog.

Road Patrolling

The first obligation of a municipality is to patrol the road, and look for hazards, or conditions in a state of “non-repair”, such as deterioration. With respect to a very busy road, a municipality is obligated to patrol twice every seven days. With respect to residential roads, a municipality must patrol once every two weeks.

Snow Removal

The obligation with respect to a municipality to keep its roads clear of snow differs depending on whether the snowfall is in progress or has completed. With respect to a snowfall in progress, a municipality is obligated only to provide snow removal services “as soon as practicable”. After a snowfall, and once snow has ceased accumulating, however, the municipality is required to remove snow from the roadways. On a very busy road, snow must be removed to a depth of five centimeters within six hours of the snowfall occurring. On a residential street, snow must be removed to a depth of eight centimeters within 16 hours.

Ice removal

After becoming aware that a roadway is icy, or is likely to become icy, a municipality is required to take action to prevent ice formation. On Geneva Street, the standard is four hours. With respect to residential roads, the current standard is 12 hours.

Municipalities are required to repair potholes. They are an accident hazard on the road, and they cause damage to property. On a very busy road, a municipality only has to repair a pothole that measures a minimum of 800 square centimeters wide and eight centimeters deep. Once the municipality discovers a pothole of this size or larger, it has four days within which to affect repairs. Given that the obligation to patrol a very busy road is twice every seven days, a pothole meeting these minimum size requirements should not take more than 11 days to fix.

With respect to a road in a residential neighbourhood, a municipality must repair a pothole measuring 1,000 square centimeters wide and eight centimeters deep within 14 days after becoming aware of it.

A municipality has an obligation to inspect a sidewalk at least once every 16 months for heaving, which occurs when there is a difference in height between one sidewalk slab and another.
One may question the adequacy of this standard given that many claims are created from individuals tripping over an uneven sidewalk. Heaving in a sidewalk can happen quickly, sometimes even after one significant freezing event.

The role of a personal injury lawyer in advancing a personal injury claim on behalf of a client injured as a result of a municipal road condition is to first document the condition of non-repair by way of taking measurements if appropriate, and to require the municipality to produce its records to establish whether it has met the applicable safety standard. If the standard has not been met, an injured plaintiff may establish liability against the municipality, and the municipality may be responsible for paying damages.  To speak with a personal injury lawyer about your claim, contact Graves and Richard, the premier personal injury law firm in St. Catharines.