Municipalities are sometimes Liable in Accidents causing Personal Injury

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Car accidents happen every day and in most cases, the driver of the vehicle responsible for causing an accident can be held liable for resulting personal injuries. However, a municipal, provincial or federal agency may sometimes be held liable as well, when an accident occurs during the administration of a government service and/or on government property.

Case example

On May 12, 2002, then 10-year old Dean Saumur was struck by a car driven by Luba Antoniak and owned by her spouse, Lester Antoniak. The boy suffered catastrophic injuries including traumatic brain injury and will require life-long care, as a result of the accident.

The incident took place at the school crosswalk while Dean was on his way to school. The Antoniaks settled with the plaintiff and the City of Hamilton, but they did so without admitting liability. Damages for Dean Saumur's injuries were agreed upon at about $7.85 Million as well as $400,000 for costs.

In Saumur v. Antoniak, 2015, Dean Saumur and his litigation guardian, Janet Saumur, sued the Antoniaks and the City of Hamilton for negligence in causing Dean's injuries. The issues Justice Ramsay was faced with in this action were threefold.

A determination on the liability of the Antoniaks as well as the City of Hamilton was required. If liability was found, Justice Ramsay would need to decide how it was to be apportioned between the two parties.

Finally, a decision was required on whether Dean Saumur contributed in any way to the accident through his own negligence. After reviewing the evidence and particularly the testimonies of key eye-witnesses, Justice Ramsay made the following rulings.

Rejecting the evidence and testimonies of the two accident reconstructionists provided by the defendants, Justice Ramsay concluded that Mrs. Antoniak was likely driving at more than 55 km/h at the time of the accident, which was above the legal speed limit.

Justice Ramsay came to this conclusion primarily on the basis of one eyewitness testimony and the behavior and testimony of Mrs. Antoniak herself. The judge commented that Mrs. Antoniak was an unsatisfactory witness, adding that she was seemingly very upset in the immediate aftermath of the accident, thereby likely clouding her perception of what happened. On two separate occasions during cross-examination by the plaintiff's counsel, Mrs. Antoniak appeared both defensive and angry.

An eyewitness to the accident gave testimony that as he was waiting to make a left turn at an intersection where the accident occurred, he saw Mrs. Antoniak hit the boy and believed her to be speeding at the time. Justice Ramsay concluded that speeding is particularly irresponsible in this instance as it was pouring rain, visibility was reduced and roads were slippery.

Further, because Mrs. Antoniak was driving in a clearly marked school zone, she should have taken particular care, monitoring for children and slowing down as she was nearing the crosswalk. The judge believed that had she done so, she would have been aware of Dean at the crosswalk in time to avoid the collision.

For these reasons, Mrs. Antoniak was found liable for the accident and for Dean Saumur's injuries. The issue of the City of Hamilton's liability lay in the timing of the accident.

The crosswalk where the accident occurred was scheduled to be manned by a crossing guard from 8:20 to 8:40 a.m. It is a fact that the crossing guard was not present at the time of the accident. A key question to be resolved was whether or not the accident happened prior to 8:40 a.m.

The crossing guard on duty that morning testified that she checked her watch and left the crosswalk at 8:40 a.m. and did not see Dean at all, thus suggesting that Dean arrived at the crosswalk after 8:40 a.m.

There were many conflicting accounts of the exact time of the accident; however, after reviewing all the evidence, Justice Ramsay concluded that the crossing guard (who is an employee of the City) left the crosswalk before 8:40 a.m. Therefore, the City of Hamilton was also liable for the accident.

Had the crossing guard been present, the judge concluded that Dean would not have attempted crossing the road without her assistance.

One issue presented in this trial was whether the City should be held liable for failing to keep people safe at a dangerous intersection by implementing insufficient fixed duty times for crossing guards. However, Justice Ramsay ruled that whether or not the fixed duty times are insufficient is irrelevant since the accident was determined to have happened during the crossing guard's assigned shift.

In the matter of whether or not Dean Saumur contributed to his injury, Justice Ramsay ruled for the plaintiffs, noting that the evidence did not prove contributory negligence. While the judge accepted that Dean likely did not look left or right at the crosswalk, he acknowledged that children are notoriously forgetful, particularly when confused or distracted, and Dean may have been confused without the presence of the crossing guard at the crosswalk. Justice Ramsay concluded that Dean's behaviour reflected that of a reasonably careful 10-year old boy.

The City of Hamilton and Mrs. Antoniak were found to share responsibility for Dean Saumur's loss, with liability apportioned at 50-50. Civil liability, particularly negligence, is often tied to the duty of care principle.

Duty of care refers to a certain standard of care one is expected to provide towards another individual. When that duty of care is breached in some way, a person or organization (such as a municipality) is guilty of negligence. In this case, the crossing guard, who was an employee and representative of the City, left her post before she was supposed to, which created an unsafe condition at the school crossing.

This circumstance meant the City breached its duty of care to the plaintiff, and was therefore partially liable for Dean Saumur's injuries.

At Gluckstein Personal Injury Lawyers, our experienced team has an outstanding record of successfully defending clients in civil suits and accident benefit claims. If you or someone you love has been the victim of an accident, call us today to schedule a free consultation.

Our personal injury lawyers invite you to have your questions answered and learn about your legal rights and the claims process.


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