Ontario Court of Appeals Case Highlights Challenges of Claims Against Municipalities

It can be challenging to accurately assign liability in personal injury lawsuits, even for the most experienced personal injury lawyer. In straightforward cases, a single defendant might be considered responsible for a single plaintiff’s injuries. But there are sometimes complicating factors at play; the recently resolved lawsuit Stamatopoulos v. Harris serves as an example. The plaintiff, who suffered life-changing injuries as the passenger in a single-car motor vehicle accident, sought compensation both from the driver of the vehicle and from the municipality where the accident occurred. The plaintiff alleged that the municipality negligently failed to properly maintain the roadway.

This case also serves as a case study for personal injury claims against the province or a municipality – when should a jurisdiction be held responsible for injuries within its borders?

What Happened?

Stamatopoulos v. Harris stemmed from a single-vehicle accident occurring in November 2004 in the Regional Municipality of Durham. The passenger in the accident suffered life-changing injuries and sought compensation against the driver, who admitted to his negligence and settled with the plaintiff in 2010. The plaintiff also sought compensation from the municipality, alleging that the accident was partially caused by a dip or depression in the roadway that the municipality should have fixed. The municipality contested this allegation.

The Courts’ Decisions

The trial judge dismissed the appellant’s action against the municipality, according to Canadian Lawyer, after concluding that the roadway wasn’t dangerous for ‘ordinary reasonable’ drivers. In order to come to this conclusion, the judge considered the following:

  • Evidence from witnesses who lived in and around the area, and who knew the dip or depression in question
  • The agreed-upon fact that there had been no previous accidents at the site of the dip since 1993
  • Evidence generated from police “runs” over the dip
  • Guidelines on road depressions and road hazard sings
  • The fact that the driver of the vehicle was driving at over 100 km/h when he hit the dip
  • The fact that the driver was distracted when hit the dip (had just opened a bottle, per Canadian Lawyer)
  • The fact that the driver had no hands on his steering wheel when he hit the dip

Ultimately, the trial judge found that the roadway was not in a state of disrepair, an assertion with which the Ontario Court of Appeal agreed. In siding with the respondent, the Appeals Court found that the trial judge ‘did not conflate the driver’s negligence with the finding that the road was not in a state of disrepair,’ ‘did not reason that the road was not in a state of non-repair because the individual respondent was not driving in the manner of an ordinary driver,’ and ‘did not adopt a too-low standard for conduct by taking a driver beyond the scope of an ordinary reasonable driver,’ again according to Canadian Lawyer.

What Does All of This Mean for Municipal Liability Cases?

Stamatopoulos v. Harris provides meaningful guidance for prospective personal injury plaintiffs interested in initiating claims against municipalities. While there are cases in which cities, towns, or the province are responsible for injuries, the bar for establishing liability is high. As defendants, municipalities tend to vigorously defend themselves against claims; your personal injury lawyer will have to work hard to show that they were responsible.

There are also limitation period considerations when pursuing a claim against a municipality. While the basic time limit for most civil claims is two years from the time the plaintiff was injured or became aware of their injuries, plaintiffs have just ten days from this same point to provide notice of their intent to sue a municipality. In other words, if you believe you have suffered an injury caused by the negligence of your town or city, contact a personal injury lawyer right away to initiate proceedings.

Contact Will Davidson LLP

At Will Davidson LLP, our team has represented clients in personal injury lawsuits for decades. Our experience includes claims involving municipalities, as well as complex claims involving multiple defendants. Whatever the specifics of your situation, a personal injury lawyer from Will Davidson LLP can help. Contact us today to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation with a member of our team – we will listen to your story, assess the viability of your case, explain the next steps in the legal process, and if possible, connect you with leading medical and rehabilitative care providers.

Reach out today to learn more.

Image: Shutterstock

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