Supreme Court says people can sue cities over snow removal activities that cause injury

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Supreme Court says people can sue cities over snow removal activities that cause injury

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The Supreme Court of Canada has unanimously ruled that municipal snow removal activities are not immune from negligence and liability claims, a decision that could impact cities across the country.

The case at the centre of the decision is a lawsuit brought against the City of Nelson, B.C., by Taryn Joy Marchi, who injured her leg while climbing over a snowbank in 2015. 

Marchi lost her initial suit, but the B.C. Court of Appeal overturned the ruling and the city appealed to the Supreme Court.  

The key issue the seven Supreme Court justices were tasked with deciding was the legal distinction between “core policy decisions” made by governments — which are immune from liability and negligence claims — and “operational decisions” that are taken while implementing policy, which are subject to liability claims. 

The court dismissed the city of Nelson’s appeal, ruling against the city’s argument that snow removal is a “core policy decision,” and therefore immune from negligence claims, and ordered a new trial.  

“The City has not met its burden of proving that Ms. Marchi seeks to challenge a core policy decision immune from negligence liability,” the court ruled. “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 case is significant because it could impact cities across the country. The attorneys general for Canada, Alberta, B.C. and Ontario were all interveners in the case, as was the City of Toronto and the City of Abbotsford B.C.

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City invited people to use sidewalk: Supreme Court

When Marchi injured her leg on Jan. 6, 2015, snow removal services in Nelson had cleared a block of angled parking spaces in the city centre, pushing the snow from the spaces to the curb creating a long snowbank separating the parking spaces from the sidewalk. 

The city did not clear paths through the snow bank to allow pedestrians to get from their parking spot to the sidewalk. 

“By plowing the parking spaces on Baker Street, the City invited members of the public to use them to access businesses along the street,” the ruling states. “The plaintiff was attempting to do just that when she fell into a snowbank that had been created by the City during snow removal.”

 

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