Ontario Municipalities must meet Minimum Standards for Ice and Snow Removal

Posted by Injury Lawyers of Ontario on January 20, 2017

Ontario’s Municipal Act, Reg. 239/02: Minimum Maintenance Standards for Municipal Highways (MMS) sets out minimum standards for road and highway maintenance for all municipalities.  MMS regulations pertain to various elements of road repair and maintenance, such as the frequency of road inspections, weather monitoring, ice formation on roadways, snow accumulation, and sidewalk trip ledges.   Also, under the MMS, roads and highways throughout the province are classified based on their average annual daily traffic and posted speed limits, and based on the classification of a particular road/highway, there are required minimum levels of inspection and repair.  The highest standards of maintenance are required for ‘class 1’ roads, which are highways that experience a large volume of traffic and higher posted speed limits. 

The below table reveals that class ‘1’ highways must be patrolled (either by an inspector or road maintenance worker) at least 3 times every 7 days.  However, if weather monitoring for a municipality indicates that there is significant probability of snow accumulation or ice formation, then municipalities are expected to inspect their affected roads at the appropriate frequency given the expected weather conditions, which will likely be more often than the minimum standards during a winter storm.

Class of highway/road and required inspection/patrol frequency 

  1. Class 1 - 3 times every 7 days
  2. Class 2 - 2 times every 7 days
  3. Class 3 - once every 7 days
  4. Class 4 - once every 2 weeks
  5. Class 5 - once every 30 days
  6. Class 6 - unspecified under MMS

Winter maintenance activities play a huge role in maintaining safe roads for Ontario road users. Accordingly, the MMS requires that weather is monitored more frequently from October 1st to April 30th. During this time, the minimum standard is to monitor current weather and 24-hour forecasts, three times each calendar day or once every shift (whichever is more frequent).  In the remainder of the calendar year, weather must be monitored only once a day.

The minimum standard for dealing with snow accumulation also depends on the classification of a given road.  For class ‘1’ roads, for example, when a municipality has become aware that snow accumulation has reached 2.5 cm, they are obligated to deploy snow removal equipment as soon as possible to deal with the situation, which may include plowing, sanding, salting or any combination of these, as is deemed appropriate for the given road conditions.  For each class of road, there is also a minimum time requirement for addressing snow accumulation and ensuring a minimum lane width.  The MMS also defines minimum standards of dealing with ice formation on roadways, within a specified time period.

In addition to minimum standards for addressing ice and snow, municipalities are held to specific timelines for repairing potholes, road cracks and shoulder drop-offs, depending on the depth of the damage. Deeper holes and ruts must be dealt with within a shorter (specified) timeline.  Municipalities must remove debris within a reasonable timeframe.  There are also specific minimum requirements for inspecting and repairing other road infrastructure, including road lights and illumination devices; signs; traffic lights; bridge deck spalls; and sidewalk joints of cracks.

What the standards defined in the MMS mean for Ontario road users is that drivers and others can and should expect roads and highways to be within a reasonable state of repair.  Certainly, drivers have a responsibility to drive at an appropriate speed and with caution, given the type of road, speed limit and road conditions.  However, sometimes road users are put at risk and sustain injury because a road has not been maintained up to, at least the minimum standard defined in the Municipal Act.  And in such circumstances, the municipality or another jurisdiction may be held liable for any injury or damages resulting from a car or cycling accident due to an unsafe condition.  

The following recent cases are ones in which the municipal defendants were found negligent for failing to keep the road at the scene of the accident in a reasonable state of repair, with respect to dealing with snow and ice conditions.

A recent case, Belanger et. al. v The Regional Municipality of Sudbury et. al., arose after a young woman lost control of her car and crashed head-on into a school bus.  The then 20-year-old woman suffered catastrophic injuries and substantial losses as a result of the collision. The collision occurred on a cold winter day and witnesses described the road as snow covered and slippery.  The road was rated as a ‘class 1’ road, and the Region’s standards required that it be maintained as bare as possible, with a maximum snow accumulation of 1 inch and no more than 2 hour intervals for plowing or spreading maintenance during a storm.  However, at the time of the accident, there had been no maintenance activity, including salting or plowing, for at least three hours and the Region workers should have been aware that the road was snow-covered and slippery.  The trial judge therefore concluded that the defendant did not meet its maintenance standards and as a result, the treacherous condition of the road was the cause of the accident.  The Region was found liable for $12 million in damages.

Lloyd v. Napanee (Town), is a similar case.  This civil action followed a collision on a county road that left a then 25-year-old woman with severe and permanent injuries.  The woman’s car lost control in an ‘S’ curve of the road and collided with a commercial tank truck approaching in the opposite direction. The road was snow covered and the centre line was thus obscured by snow.  The location of the accident was recognized as a particularly dangerous section of road, but the road was not salted and the snow was packed, making it difficult even to walk.   The trial judge in this case concluded that the snow accumulation of 2 to 5 cm was a hazard and therefore, the road was in a state of disrepair.  Consequently, the municipalities were found 60 per cent liable for the assessed damages.  The truck driver was found 30 per cent liable for driving at an excessive speed given the condition of the road and he was not even certain if his truck went over the centre line.  The plaintiff was found 10 per cent liable for driving too fast under the circumstances. 

In Giuliani v. Region of Halton, a 39-year-old woman sued the municipality of Halton after her vehicle crashed on Derry Rd in Milton, and she sustained catastrophic injuries.  As in the two previous cases, the trial judge determined that the municipality was responsible for the state of disrepair of Derry Rd, a ‘class 1’ highway.  This was a case where snow accumulated during the morning commute and was compacted by heavy traffic, causing it to become particularly icy.  In an assessment of the facts, the trial judge concluded that municipal workers failed to pay attention to early morning weather forecasts of snow accumulation and freezing temperatures, and also failed to properly monitor the weather or patrol the roads.   As a result, salting operations were not deployed promptly, and this was a factor in the slippery and dangerous road conditions.  The judge decided that the Region and the plaintiff shared equal liability in the accident; on the plaintiff’s part, it was determined that she was driving at an excessive speed for the given road conditions, and did not adjust her speed after having almost lost control just prior to her accident. 

If you or a loved one was suffered injuries in an accident due to an unsafe road condition, call a knowledgeable ILO car accident lawyer in your community. The Injury Lawyers of Ontario personal injury group are respected and experienced lawyers with close ties to medical professionals and law enforcement in local communities.  Call one of our offices today to discuss your case and learn about your legal rights and options. 

 


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