Lawsuit Against City of Toronto Clarifies Limitation Period Rules

Limitation periods are an important part of personal injury law in Ontario. We’ve provided an overview of Ontario’s personal injury lawsuit limitation periods in a previous blog, and more recently discussed how changes to those limitation periods can affect plaintiff wellbeing, such as with new slip-and-fall legislation enacted though Bill 118. This blog focuses on the strict limitation period associated with personal injury claims against municipalities, the situations in which that limitation period can be breached, and how a personal injury lawyer can help if you’ve been harmed by municipal negligence.

What is the Limitation Period for Claims Against Municipalities?

In general, the limitation period for claims against Ontario municipalities is 10 days. That means that within ten days of your accident or becoming aware of your injuries, you must inform the municipality, in writing, of your attention to file a claim.

This limitation period is among the shortest in Ontario personal injury law. If you’ve been injured as a result of municipal negligence, misconduct, or malpractice, you should consult with a personal injury lawyer as soon as possible.

When Would I Bring a Claim Against a Municipality?

Most personal injury lawsuits in Ontario involve claims against individuals or organizations. A plaintiff might sue an at-fault driver after incurring injuries in a car accident, for example, or sue a store after a serious slip-and-fall on a wet floor.

Claims against municipalities are rarer, but can involve accidents at recreational facilities, public transit collisions, or slip and fall accidents on sidewalks or inside municipal facilities. In the recent Superior Court of Justice case Graham v. City of Toronto, the plaintiff sued the city after tripping and falling on a pothole on a pedestrian crosswalk in January 2018.

Can I File a Claim Against a Municipality After the 10-Day Limitation Period?

Graham v. City of Toronto, which was heard by the Superior Court in March of this year, clarifies the circumstances in which a plaintiff can initiate legal action against a municipality outside of the 10-day limitation period. The following information was detailed in an OTLA blog post.

The plaintiff sustained several injuries when she fell in January 2018, including a torn rotator cuff, strained neck, and injured right elbow, arm, and hand. She immediately returned to her demanding and time-consuming job as management director of a capital management firm. She also sought treatment for her injuries but, at that point, had no intention of suing the city.

After two months of treatment, however, the scope and severity of her injuries started to become clear. She continued to struggle with her job and became concerned with how the injuries would affect her professional and social life. Three months after the accident, she informed the city that she intended to sue. Her problems continued: she required surgery and resigned from her position 18 months after the accident. She was no longer able to ski or play golf.

Section 44 of Ontario’s Municipal Act states that injury victims must provide notification to municipalities within ten days, “failing which they are disentitled from suing the municipality for their injuries.” It also states, however, that “failure to give notice or insufficiency of the notice is not a bar to the action if a judge finds that there is reasonable excuse for the want or the insufficiency of the notice and that the municipality is not prejudiced in its defence.”

The City of Toronto asked the court to throw out Graham’s claim due to the 10-day limitation period. In considering the motion, the court had to determine whether the plaintiff’s reasons for failing to provide notice amounted to a ‘reasonable excuse’ and whether the delay negatively impacted the city’s ability to defend against the claim.

The court ultimately rejected the city’s motion. It considered the following factors in determining whether to accept the plaintiff’s arguments:

  • The plaintiff was initially focused on her job following the accident, not her injuries
  • The plaintiff was unaware of the severity of the injuries until after months of therapy
  • The plaintiff was surprised by the length of, and challenges associated with, her recovery
  • The plaintiff wasn’t immediately aware of the social impacts of her injury
  • The plaintiff didn’t know about the 10-day notice requirement
  • The three-month delay was deemed “not significant”

The court also considered that plaintiff did not immediately intend to sue, concluding that she “should not be disadvantaged because rather than immediately decide to sue, she preferred not to if her injuries healed.”

Finally, the court determined that the three-month delay did not prejudice the city’s defence.

Contact Will Davidson LLP

While the Superior Court’s decision in Graham v. City of Toronto broadens the definition of ‘reasonable excuse’ for late notice in cases against municipalities, individuals considering legal action against a city should reach out to a personal injury lawyer as soon as possible. At Will Davidson LLP, our team has represented thousands of seriously injured accident victims during our more than 90 years in business. Contact us today to set up a free, no-obligation consultation and learn how we can help.

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