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February 29, 2012

Minimum Maintenance Standards Ruled Inapplicable

Giuliani v. Halton (Municipality), 2011 ONCA 812 (C.A.)

The Giuliani decision was released by the Court of Appeal on December 21, 2011. The plaintiff lost control of her vehicle when the road she was travelling on was covered with snow and ice. Approximately two centimetres of snow had fallen on the road which impacted and turned to ice.

The weather forecasts beginning the afternoon prior to the date of the accident indicated that snow would fall beginning the next morning. The trial judge found that the Town had ample time to schedule a person or crew to monitor the weather and road conditions and to place a maintenance crew on standby.

Salting operations did not begin until fifteen minutes after the accident occurred. It was not clear when the icy road conditions were first discovered. It was held that the Town “failed to inspect the roads when it ought to have known that an inspection was necessary to trigger the remedial steps necessary to maintain [the road in question]”.

The trial judge held that the defendants had complied with the Minimum Maintenance Standards (MMS) with respect to treating the icy roadway within the required time after becoming aware of its icy condition. However, the trial judge held that this was not a defence.

The Court of Appeal upheld the decision and held that sections 4 and 5 of the MMS do not establish minimum standards to address the accumulation of 2 centimetres of snow on a Class 2 roadway (they apply when there is a 5 cm accumulation), nor do they establish a minimum standard for the treatment of a highway before ice is formed and becomes an icy roadway. The Town was liable for failure to monitor the weather and the failure to deploy resources to prevent the road from becoming icy. Therefore, the analysis did not centre on the MMS as the MMS does not establish a minimum standard for the treatment of a highway before ice is formed and becomes icy.

The analysis turned to section 44(1) of the Municipal Act, 2001 requiring municipalities to take reasonable steps. The Court of Appeal agreed with the trial judge that reasonable steps were not taken with respect to monitoring the weather and lining crews up in advance.

This case raises the bar significantly with respect to what the courts require of municipalities to meet the reasonableness standard. It also takes away much of the certainty that was provided to municipalities by way of the MMS. An increased proactive approach to maintenance of roadways will be required.

̶ Kristen Dearlove, Student-at-Law

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