Municipal Snow Removal Activities Not Immune from Negligence

Back in October 2021, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that municipal snow removal activities are not immune from negligence and liability claims. The decision could have far-reaching consequences in the legal world, paving the way for future compensation claims.

The facts of the case

The ruling followed a lawsuit brought against the City of Nelson, B.C., by Taryn Joy Marchi. In January 2015, snow removal services plowed a block of angled parking spaces in Nelson city centre. This created a long snowbank between the parking spaces and the sidewalk. No paths had been cleared through the snowbank, making it difficult for pedestrians to access the businesses on the street. Ms. Marchi tried to climb the snowbank, causing her to fall and injure her leg.

Ms. Marchi pursued a personal injury claim against the City of Nelson. The trial judge ruled against her. The judge sided with the City of Nelson who argued that snow removal is a ‘core policy decision’. This was central to the case, as core policy decisions are immune from negligence claims. The ruling stated that Ms. Marchi was the “author of her own misfortune” and had assumed the risk when she tried to climb over the snowbank.

However, the case didn’t end there, as the B.C. Court of Appeal overturned the ruling. The City of Nelson then appealed to the Supreme Court. Seven justices had to decide once and for all whether snow removal activities were core policy decisions – and therefore immune from negligence claims. Or whether they were in fact operational decisions, as Marchi’s lawyers argued. In October 2021, the verdict was returned: municipal snow removal activities are not immune from liability claims.

Operational decisions

The court found that core policy decisions are choices made by cities based on broad public policy considerations. It said that the decision to create snowbanks without clearing pathways for sidewalk access was not a matter of core policy. Instead, it was an operational decision, which are decisions taken while implementing policy.

The ruling stated: “The City has not met its burden of proving that Ms. Marchi seeks to challenge a core policy decision immune from negligence liability. While there is no suggestion that the City made an irrational or bad faith decision, the City’s ‘core policy defence’ fails and it owed Ms. Marchi a duty of care.”

“The regular principles of negligence law apply in determining whether the City breached the duty of care and, if so, whether it should be liable for Ms. Marchi’s damages.”

The court ordered a new trial.

Have you been injured by snow removal activities?

There has been widespread interest in this lawsuit, as the Supreme Court’s ruling could impact cities across the country. The attorneys general for Alberta and Ontario, the City of Toronto and the City of Abbotsford were all interveners in the case. The decision of Canada’s top court could open the door to future liability claims, should anyone be injured due to municipal snow removal activities.

At John Mickelson Law Corporation, we specialise in personal injury claims. If you have slipped on snow or ice and you think another person or organization is to blame, please contact us. We can explain your options, advising whether you can make a claim for damages.

To speak to our Vancouver personal injury lawyers, either fill in the free online enquiry form or call us on 604 684 0040.

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