In Ontario, according to the Municipal Act, 2001, municipalities are responsible for keeping the bridges and highways within their jurisdictions in a state of reasonable repair, and if they fail to fulfill this responsibility, they will be liable for any damages their negligence causes.
Although this element of municipal governance may seem mundane, it is often at the heart of why municipalities find themselves in legal "hot water". In fact, according to industry experts, accidents occurring on municipal roads and highways provide the largest single source of claims against municipalities.
In an attempt to defend against municipal liability, the Ontario government introduced the Minimum Maintenance Standards for Municipal Highways in 2002. This regulation set out the minimum standards of repair for highways under municipal jurisdiction.
If read literally and in conjunction with the Municipal Act, 2001, this regulation appears to provide municipalities with a complete shield against civil liability, as long as their conduct meets the outlined standards. Luckily, however, recent Ontario case law suggests that this is not the case. Courts have made clear that meeting the minimum maintenance standards will not absolve a municipality in all circumstances. For example, where irregular weather conditions, such as a winter storm or freezing rain, present themselves, meeting the minimum maintenance standards will likely not be sufficient. If a municipality wishes to avoid liability, it will still have to convince the court that in the circumstances its efforts were reasonable according to the traditional negligence standards.