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November 25, 2010

The Hills Are Alive... With Danger

Deering v. Scugog (Township), [2010] O.J. No. 4229 (S.C.J.).
Howden, J. discussed the duty that road authorities owe to motorists in the case of Deering v. Scugog (Township), [2010] O.J. No. 4229 (S.C.J.), a case involving a motor vehicle accident that occurred on August 10, 2004, which left two teenage sisters severely injured.

Shannon Deering, the older sister who was 19 years old at the time, was driving her 2002 Pontiac Grand AM up a hill on Coates Road West in Oshawa, when the headlights of an eastbound vehicle appeared over the crest of the hill. The vehicle moved to the right, then arced left, and finally veered to the right over the shoulder of the road.

Justice Howden ultimately found that the segment of Coates Rd. West was in a state of non-repair because in his view, the hill where the accident happened “represented a virtually unique source of danger to ordinary drivers, particularly at night due to its combination of features likely to create an emergency situation with little or no preview time for westbound drivers to deal safely with it”.

At the time of the accident, Coates Road West was paved and flat for close to two kilometers, after which it climbed and fell away over three hills. The third hill was the most significant, and in August 2004, the road had no lane markings, no signage, and an un-posted speed limit of 80 km/hr.

In July 2004, the road was involved in a rehabilitation project to improve the road’s base and surface. The aim of the rehabilitation project was to provide an adequate sub-structure and surface treatment. By July 20, 2004, a dark-coloured sealant or emulsion was applied to the road as the final phase of the project. Immediately afterwards the road was re-opened in its otherwise previous state which was unsigned, unlit and unlined.

After a review of the relevant case law, Justice Howden determined that road authorities have a duty to ordinary motorists to keep their roads in reasonable repair, including the type and location of the road. The standard of care uses as the measure of reasonable conduct the ordinary reasonable driver and the duty to repair arises wherever an unreasonable risk of harm exists on the roadway for which obvious cues on or near the road are not present and no warning is provided, subject to certain defences.

Howden, J. stated that “The ordinary motorist includes those of average range of driving ability – not simply the perfect, the prescient, or the especially perceptive driver, or one with exceptionally fast reflexes, but the ordinary driver who is of average intelligence, pays attention, uses caution when conditions warrant, but is human and sometimes makes mistakes.”

He further declared that “the duty to repair under section 44 should no longer ignore the need in circumstances of pre-design age roads near areas of urban change and growth to incorporate assessments of safety measures into road rehabilitation and reconstruction projects”.

This blog contribution by articling student Alex Lacko.

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