WANT TO SUE? GOOD LUCK
KELOWNA — So you finally get out of your snow-choked driveway, just to slip on your neighbour’s sidewalk and break your nose. Or you break your wrist, jumping over a snowbank to cross the road. If you’re looking for someone to sue, don’t bother naming the city in the lawsuit - the odds don’t favour you.
“We get one every couple of years but we’ve never lost a lawsuit on that issue to my recollection,” says Lance Kayfish, risk manager for the City of Kelowna.
His confidence in winning lawsuits doesn’t stem from the quality of the city’s lawyers, but rather the height of the bar set by B.C. municipalities, and by extension their taxpayers, for snow removal and maintenance. It can be pretty low, depending on where you live and the property taxes you pay.
“In B.C., municipal roads are maintained to a standard set by local government,” Kayfish says. “Regardless of how good or bad road maintenance is, there can be no real liability, except perhaps in the case of extreme negligence.”
While this week's snowfall levels have tested City resources, Kayfish says Kelowna's snow removal service is amongst the best in Canada, but still allows enough flexibility to deal with fast-changing weather.
“Calgary and Edmonton don’t even try to do side streets,” he says. “We do some sidewalks which is almost unheard of across Canada."
So don’t look to him for much sympathy either, if you get into a car accident and try to blame it on the snow-slicked roads.
“The reality is snow conditions don’t cause accidents. Bad driving does,” he adds, although he describes roadways as “the riskiest service we provide,” regardless of the season.
Someone injured in a snow-related slip or fall would do better to look for liability at the residence or business fronting the sidewalk where they fell. Under the policy, property owners are responsible for removing snow and ice from sidewalks within a reasonable time period, subject to a fine for non-compliance, although Kayfish admits the city isn’t racing to send out tickets.
“If it got to that, bylaw would send out warning letters first,” he says.
Instead the city is encouraging people to help their neighbours dig out, rather than think about lawsuits.
"We don't have much of a tradition like that here," he says. "People expect snow here to melt and go away within 24 hours."
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