Want To Sue The City For Your Injuries? Four Things To Keep In Mind

August 1, 2017 | Cynthia P. Carels

The story of Adi Astl has captured national attention this summer, after the 73 year old Etobicoke handyman built a $550.00 set of steps down a steep embankment to his local park. He and his neighbors requested the city build some stairs to help park visitors navigate a popular, but somewhat treacherous, shortcut. Initial city estimates in excess of $65,000.00 have prompted many discussions about how municipalities plan, design, and maintain safe public infrastructure, and avoid liability for injuries. In this post, we explore four common issues when injured plaintiffs try to sue their local government.

  1. If The City Builds It, The City Must Reasonably Maintain It

Given the broad variety of visitors to publicly accessible spaces, and the limited resources available for building and maintaining infrastructure, municipalities are not expected to insure every square inch is free from hazards for all users. However, when public works are built, they must be kept in a reasonable state of repair, keeping in mind the character of the project, and the area of the municipality where it is located.

In Alberta, the duty to repair roads, public places, and public works is set out in section 532 of the Municipal Government Act. The same duty applies when non-government actors place infrastructure on public property, with the municipality’s permission.

  1. The City Is Not Necessarily Liable For All Injuries That Happen On Hazardous Public Property

The Municipal Government Act sets out a number of exceptions to liability for damages caused by faulty public infrastructure, including: 532(4) “A municipality is not liable under this section unless the claimant has suffered by reason of the default of the municipality, a particular loss or damage beyond what is suffered by the claimant in common with all other persons affected by the state of repair.”

  1. A Municipality Is Only Liable For Hazards It Knew (or should have known) About

Inspecting and maintaining public infrastructure is a massive job, and hazards unexpectedly arise all the time. Weather and accidental disrepair is often first brought to municipalities’ attention by citizen reports. Some disrepair may even be intentionally caused by vandalism or public mischief makers, again, which the City may not know about until someone complains. Unless a municipality knew, or ought to have known, about the hazard it will not be held liable. Further, if a municipality can prove it took reasonable steps to prevent the hazard from arising it may escape liability for a plaintiff’s injury.

  1. Notice Periods Can Be Very Short

In Alberta, plaintiffs who intend to sue for their injuries must give notice to the municipality of the event that caused their injury. This varies, depending on the circumstances (eg. 21 days for snow and ice related claims). Failing to give notice within these very short windows will bar the action unless the Plaintiff died or has some other reasonable excuse for the lack of notice. However, even if there is an excuse, the municipality must not be prejudiced by the lack of notice, or it waives the requirement in writing.

At Miller Thomson LLP, our personal injury litigation team understands the complexities associated with bringing claims against municipalities. The sheer volume of evidence can be significant in these cases, and will often involve highly technical lines of questioning.

As part of a national, full service law firm, with outstanding access to resources and strategic connections, we are well positioned to investigate complex liability questions, and connect with leading experts. We have also invested in building relationships with trusted local clinics and therapists, so we can help our clients obtain timely access to diagnostic and rehabilitation resources.

Our clients get the benefit of a large, national firm and all its resources – but at the same cost as a small boutique firm – because our contingency fee percentage is the same competitive amount as the others.

Contact us today for a free, no obligation, consultation regarding the benefits and compensation you may be entitled to claim.

Cynthia Carels
780-429-9747 (direct line)


This blog sets out a variety of materials relating to the law to be used for educational and non-commercial purposes only; the author(s) of this blog do not intend the blog to be a source of legal advice. Please retain and seek the advice of a lawyer and use your own good judgement before choosing to act on any information included in the blog. If you choose to rely on the materials, you do so entirely at your own risk.