If you’ve suffered an injury on a city sidewalk or road and plan to sue, you only have ten days to act in Ontario. Surprised? Probably, but ignorance of the law is no excuse. There is an exception (more on that later), but if you’re hurt from tripping on uneven pavement or slipping on an icy sidewalk, and plan to sue the city, you have only ten days to give the municipality notice, and in the manner prescribed by law.
You cannot rely on getting an exception, so the best way to protect yourself is to immediately contact a lawyer, even if you don’t think your injury is serious. Injuries don’t always improve as expected and sometimes they get worse over time. What initially seems like a minor injury can have more serious consequences than you could expect in the first 10 days. Being prepared is the best way to protect yourself against the unforeseen consequences of an accident.
Even if the ten days has passed you should contact a lawyer and give notice because a judge can extend the notice period if you have a reasonable excuse and you can show that the municipality is not ‘prejudiced’ by the late notice. The ten day notice lets the municipality investigate right away because conditions can change (ice melts, paving stones change position over time). The exception tries to balance the rights of both parties: allowing victims to proceed if they have good reason for the late notice, but also protecting the municipality if it does not have a proper chance to investigate the claim.
Courts take a liberal approach when assessing the reasonableness of your excuse, but even so, if the municipality is prejudiced, you can still be prevented from pursuing an otherwise legitimate case.
In the recent case of Seif v Toronto (City) 2015, Ms. Seif tripped over uneven pavement and broke her wrist. She gave notice four months later, on learning her injuries were permanent. The Court of Appeal found her excuse reasonable but could not say whether the City had been prejudiced in its ability to defend itself, partly because there was no evidence of the condition of the sidewalk at the time of the fall. The court ordered a new trial, but clearly left open the possibility that Ms. Seif would not be allowed to recover anything if the City was prejudiced.
You can take steps to protect yourself against a prejudice argument. Take pictures of the scene as soon as possible after your accident, preferably from different angles. Use a measuring device, like a ruler, to show the height of the area where you fell. One of the problems in the Seif case was that no one took a picture with a ruler so there was no way to know how the height difference at the time of the fall.
It never hurts to be prepared. We offer a free initial meeting with our lawyers to help determine the best course of action if you’ve been injured. Give us a call at 416-800-4378 or 416-533-7133.