By
Elaine Bright

Can You Sue The Government For A Highway Accident? | Government Liability

February 4, 2014

Elaine Bright – Pace Personal Injury Lawyer in Kenora“There has been a multi-vehicle collision.” “The Trans-Canada highway is closed.” We have seen and heard these announcements in Northwestern Ontario more than once already this winter.

If a highway turns icy, and one thing leads to another … is it anyone’s fault? This is an important question if someone is seriously injured in such an accident. Ontario’s no-fault auto insurance system provides certain benefits regardless of who was at fault, but compensation for pain and suffering, and certain economic losses, can only be obtained by starting legal proceedings against someone who was “at fault.”

Provincial and Municipal Responsibility

The province of Ontario, and municipalities such as Kenora, both have responsibilities for the maintenance of highways. Those responsibilities may be contracted out, but governments are still liable if the duties are not met. In other words, governments can be at fault, and may have to pay compensation to someone who is injured in a motor vehicle accident if highways are not plowed, salted, sanded – or even closed to prevent accidents – in an appropriate period of time.
Governments do not have to keep highways perfectly clear all of the time. For example, Ontario’s Municipal Act states that a” municipality that has jurisdiction over a highway or bridge shall keep it in a state of repair that is reasonable in the circumstances”. One way of determining what is “reasonable” is whether plowing, salting and sanding have been done in compliance with “Minimum Maintenance Standards” that have been developed by the province.

Minimum Maintenance Standards

Minimum Maintenance Standards, or “MMS”, are regulations that specify how quickly action must be taken to prevent or deal with snow, ice and other hazards. There are different standards for difference “classes” of roads. Classes are based on the speed limits and traffic levels of streets and highways. For example, Highway 17 is a Class 2 highway. Among other measures, it must be plowed and salted to a bare surface within 16 hours after the end of a storm.

The Ontario Ministry of Transportation’s website states that performance targets or standards are met over 90% of the time. But occasionally, mistakes may be made.

The men and women who maintain our highways often work long hours in extreme conditions to help us stay safe. The Ontario Ministry of Transportation’s website states that performance targets or standards are met over 90% of the time. But occasionally, mistakes may be made.

Limitation Period: Ten Days

How do you know if a provincial or municipal government is at fault if you have been in an accident on a snowy or icy road? Most people will need to contact a lawyer. And you must do so very quickly – the rules for limitation periods say that you only have 10 days after an accident to notify the province or municipality that you are going to make a claim against them for being at fault in your accident.
Drivers involved in a collision may be at fault also. If a driver is charged and convicted for their role in an accident, it is clear the driver is at fault. Even if a driver is not charged, they may be at fault in the sense their insurance will have to pay compensation to someone who is injured.
Icy roads? Let’s stay home if we can. When we are driving, let’s remember to take care and be thankful to the road crews that work so hard to keep us safe.
Elaine Bright is a lawyer with Pace Law Firm. She handles cases in Kenora and throughout Northwestern Ontario. Pace’s personal injury lawyers have been helping accident victims since 1980.
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