Slip and fall accidents may occur at any time but, in Canada, are particularly common on icy walkways and roads during the winter. We can help circumvent these types of accidents by being attentive and cautious while walking and wearing the appropriate footwear; however, sometimes dangerous road surfaces or hazards on a pathway cause a fall, despite our efforts to take care.
Although we commonly associate motor vehicle accidents with the most serious injuries, falls can also cause devastating injuries that result in permanent and life-changing disability. When someone slips or trips and falls, they may experience a broad spectrum of injuries and sometimes, falls that appear fairly minor can actually cause significant pain and injury. Based on accident statistics between 2001 and 2010, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that falls are the most common cause of traumatic brain injury, including concussions, particularly for children under 15 years of age and adults over the age of 65. Falls are also a frequent cause of back and spinal injury, which often results in permanent and ongoing symptoms. Many Canadians suffer from debilitating back pain after a fall, particularly lower back pain, and symptoms may linger and even worsen throughout the accident victim’s life. Also not uncommon are sprains and fractures to the wrists, arms and/or legs.
One such case involves a woman who fell while walking along a laneway in Toronto. There was a thick accumulation of ice, concealed by snow, at the location of her slip and fall accident. As a result of her fall, the woman suffered a Colles’ fracture to her left wrist and injured both her head and buttocks when striking the pavement. The accident occurred on a laneway running north of Danforth Avenue in Toronto, which is commonly used by students walking to Robotech School. The plaintiff, Ms. Guy, and her husband were on route to the school after exiting the Greenwood Subway Station, at the time of her accident. Ms. Guy fell despite walking carefully and wearing winter boots.
In Guy v. Toronto (City), the injured woman sued the City of Toronto for damages arising from her injuries. Although nine years had passed since the accident, she continues to suffer intermittent pain in her wrist, but fortunately, her ongoing headaches and other injuries were resolved by that point in time.
The impact of the fall and resulting injuries was that Ms. Guy was unable to finish her course work at York University for the semester, due to pain in her wrist as well as frequent headaches, and she consequently failed her courses. She also lost the value of her tuition, costs of textbooks, and other university fees. The plaintiff and her husband testified that there is residual pain and sometimes, numbness, in her wrist that somewhat restricts the kind of activities she can undertake, particularly those involving lifting.
In response to the plaintiff’s claim that the City was negligent in its maintenance of the laneway in question, which subsequently caused the plaintiff’s injury, the City posited the following arguments. The laneway is a roadway, not a pedestrian path, and as such, any standard of care relates to vehicles being able to travel safely along the laneway. Further, the City alleges it met its obligation to keep the laneway safe (by salting the laneway), in light of its programs for monitoring and fixing road conditions and its substantial obligations throughout the City. The City argued that pursuant to the Municipal Act, section 284(1.2), “the City is not liable for failing to keep the highway in a reasonable state of repair if it did not know and could not reasonably have expected to know the state of repair of the highway” (laneway).
The plaintiff contended that, in this case, the location and use of the laneway is key in the determination of liability. In close proximity to the laneway are: two schools, a public subway station, a senior citizens’ home, as well as businesses and residences. Not surprisingly therefore, this particular laneway, although originally designed to be a road for vehicular traffic, is commonly used by pedestrians, a fact which the City knew or ought to have known. The plaintiff also reminded the Court that the City admitted that this is a designated commercial ‘highway’ under the Municipal Act, for which there is a statutory duty to repair. Yet, the City revealed that it is their policy to not plough the laneway and salt only when necessary. The plaintiff maintained that this demonstrates a breach of duty by the City.
In his determination of the City’s liability, the judge noted that although the laneway was initially constructed before the Toronto subway system and intended to be used largely by homeowners accessing their garages and business receiving deliveries, the City ought to have been aware that, due to its location, the laneway is frequently used by pedestrian traffic. The subway stop, in particular, makes it readily accessible and popular for pedestrian use and certainly, pedestrians on the laneway should be granted the same duty of care to which the City is obligated with respect to snow and ice on sidewalks.
The Municipal Act, section 284(4) states that “except in cases of gross negligence, a corporation is not liable for a personal injury caused by snow or ice on a sidewalk”. In other words, negligence involves a “flagrant breach of a duty of care”.
In Guy, testimony revealed that Toronto’s laneways and alleyways are normally not patrolled on foot by City workers, who typically patrol only those streets with sidewalks, as it is assumed that laneways are meant for vehicular traffic. A superintendent for the City of Toronto Road Operations testified that laneways present ploughing and safety problems arising from damaging nearby properties and to persons potentially in the lanes. Although it was not ploughed, salting of the laneway at the scene of the accident would have been completed within three days of a city-wide snow storm that occurred on March 6th. Following that and before Ms. Guy’s accident on March 11th, no further salting was deemed necessary because temperatures allowed melting of the snow. Also, there were no complaints from residents or others concerning the state of the laneway, between March 6th and 11th.
In his assessment of whether the City of Toronto did all it ought to do to keep road users safe, the judge stated that the well-travelled section of the laneway should have been patrolled by foot to monitor for ice beneath the snow, and the lack of inspection of laneways commonly used by pedestrians amounts to neglect in the City’s statutory duty. Further, the City could have used other methods to remove the snow, besides ploughing, such as the use of a snow blower to blow snow into a dump truck. It was concluded that, on the whole, the City did not meet its onus to establish that there was no danger to road users, on par with its efforts to prevent injury on pedestrian sidewalks and paths. The City of Toronto was therefore found grossly negligent in the slip and fall accident resulting in injuries to Ms. Guy, and the plaintiff was awarded damages accordingly.
Every slip and fall accident, even ones occurring under similar circumstances, do not result in the same injuries. There are many variables that contribute to the type and severity of injury, such as: the direction of one’s fall; the force of the fall and whether you were able to reduce the impact in any way; the part of the body that was struck; and past injuries, age and generally wellness of the accident victim. If you experienced an injury resulting from a slip or trip and fall accident, you may be eligible for compensation if an unsafe condition on public or private property was responsible for your fall. Call the skilled law team at Kotak Law for an initial consultation to find out whether you have a legitimate claim for damages against the negligent party. Let us help you get the compensation you deserve and need, to aid in your recovery.