Gross Negligence in Municipal Slip and Falls

If you have been injured by slipping and falling due to snow or ice on a public sidewalk, recovering for your loss can be challenging. The standard to overcome in a successful lawsuit is quite high.

Understanding the Municipal Act, 2001

The Municipal Act, 2001, applies to incidents causing personal injury on municipal property. Section 44(9) states:

“Except in case of gross negligence, a municipality is not liable for a personal injury caused by snow or ice on a sidewalk.”

What Is Gross Negligence?

The definition of gross negligence has been examined in several cases. In Crinson v. Toronto (City), ONCA 2010, the Ontario Court of Appeal held that the city was grossly negligent because it waited almost 34 hours between recognizing the dangerous conditions and starting to salt the sidewalks.

Gross negligence is defined as “very great negligence” (Drennan v. Kingston (City), SCC 1897). It does not require “proof of misconduct that is willful, wanton, or flagrant” (Dagenais v. Timmins (City), ONCA 1995). Courts determine gross negligence based on the facts of each case, though it involves more than a mere breach of duty of care (Crinson).

To decide whether there was gross negligence, courts ask two questions:

1- Was the municipality’s general policy regarding snow and ice removal reasonable?
2- Was the municipality’s response to the specific snow event in question reasonable? (Fernandez v. Toronto (City of), 2021 ONSC).

Examples of Gross Negligence

1- If a person is hurt because a municipality allowed an icy sidewalk in a busy area to remain untreated or ignored it altogether, that constitutes gross negligence (Huycke v. Coburg (Municipality), ONCA 1937).

2- If a municipality did not plough or sand the sidewalk for a month before the accident, despite the sidewalk’s poor condition and the street being well-traveled, that is gross negligence (Bannon v. Thunder Bay (City), 1998 Ont. Gen. Div., judgment restored by SCC).

Examples That Are Not Gross Negligence

1- If the city cleared the sidewalk of snow but not the bus stops, it is not gross negligence, even if the city’s policy was to clear selected bus stops and it failed to do so (Marderosian v. City of Niagara Falls, 2024 ONSC).

2- A city policy to clear sidewalks within 24 hours of the end of snowfall is considered reasonable. If this policy is followed, and there are no special dangers requiring specific attention, there is no gross negligence. The standard is not perfection (Vargas v. Hamilton (City), 2020 ONSC).

What to Do If Injured?

If you have been injured in a slip and fall on municipal property, give notice to the municipality immediately, as the deadline is only 10 days! You should also consult a lawyer to discuss your options.

If you’ve suffered a loss, you’d better call Ross!