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December 7, 2011

Occupier’s Liability S.4(4)(f): Recreational Trail

In Turner v. Kitchener (City) [2011] O.J. No. 4803, the plaintiff was riding his bike along a recreational trail in Kitchener. It was his regular route and time of travel which put him on the trail at 5:15 am.

Earlier that day vandals had set fire to a bridge along the trail and after investigating, the police and fire personnel had blocked off the bridge with a wooden barricade and yellow caution tape.

The plaintiff was biking at a relatively high speed for the time of morning, was wearing a helmet but did not have any light affixed to his bike. As the plaintiff approached the barricade, he was not able to see it, and when he did notice it is was too late to stop safely. The plaintiff applied his brakes so hard that he flipped over the bike and suffered injuries.

In this case, the plaintiff must establish that the defendant acted with “reckless disregard” towards him.

The trail is a “recreational trail”, so that s.4(4)(f) of the Occupier’s Liability Act (“Act”) was triggered. Section 4(3)(c) of the Act is also triggered and the plaintiff is deemed to have willingly assumed all risks when he rode his bike on the trail that day.

The deputy trial judge cited Cormack v. Mara (Township) (1989), 68 O.R. (2d) 716 (C.A.) which defined “reckless disregard” as doing or omitting to do something which the occupier “should recognize as likely to cause damage or injury to [the person] present on his or her premises, not caring whether such damage or injury results”.

After the fire, police and fire personnel attended the scene the city dispatched a crew to erect an orange barrier with several lines of yellow caution tape blocking off bridge access. The bridge was blocked off in order to arrange an inspection to determine if the bridge was structurally safe.

The plaintiff’s expert report concluded that the city ought to have used either a reflective warning sign and/or a flashing beacon.

The city offered evidence that the recreational trails are closed between 11pm and 6am. There are signs posted which state this and there is a by-law which specifically prohibits presence in the park, including on the trails between those hours.

The deputy judge accepted the city’s evidence, although it only showed that the plaintiff was in violation of a city by-law. He held that the city did not act with “reckless disregard” for the plaintiff. The deputy judge further explained that,“it could not be deemed likely, from the city’s perspective, that a bicyclist riding a trail while it was closed, and more importantly, while it was almost completely dark, without a headlight, would fail to see the barricade until it was too late to stop safely. Nor do I find that the city did not care whether injury resulted from its erection of the barricade.”

The deputy judge also stated that a flashing light on the barricade would have increased the possibility of the plaintiff seeing the barrier, but that a light on his bike and riding at a slower speed in the dark would have done the same thing.

If the deputy judge had found for the plaintiff on liability, he would have reduced the damages by a factor of 70%.

Also see Kennedy v. London (City) (2009), 58 M.P.L.R. (4th) 244 (Ont S.C.J.) and Schneider v. St. Clair Region Conservation Authority (2009), 97 O.R. (3d) 81 (C.A.) on the issue of recreational trails.

- Alison McBurney

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