Who Pays When You Slip and Fall on Someone Else’s Property?

Bob Aaron in Legal 


Winter in Toronto can bring the early morning sounds of neighbours’ shovels on driveways and sidewalks, and snowplows on roads.

Failure to clear snow and ice from sidewalks adjacent to private property in the city can result in a fine of $125 under the Municipal Code.

But recently, I’ve received several questions asking who bears the responsibility, when an injury occurs as the result of an uncleared sidewalk.

The toronto.ca website says that the city provides mechanical sidewalk snow-clearing in most parts of Toronto. In the downtown core, however, the city is unable to provide this service.

In areas where sidewalks cannot be plowed, residents and business owners are responsible for clearing the ice and snow from sidewalks adjacent to their properties within 12 hours of a snowfall. When a snowfall lasts for many hours, I’m not sure if this means within 12 hours after the end of a snowfall, or within 12 hours of an accumulation of snow deep enough to cause injury to a pedestrian.

But what happens if a sidewalk is not cleared and someone is injured as a result?

Back in January, 1997, Concetta Bongiardina fell on the sidewalk in front of a home on Chancellor Dr., in Vaughan. The house was owned by Carlo and Carmela Mangiapane. Bongiardina was injured in the fall and sued the City of Vaughan, claiming that the snow and ice on the sidewalk was a nuisance and hazard.

Vaughan denied liability and added the Mangiapanes to the court case. The city claimed the couple was responsible because they were in breach of the bylaw, which required them to clear their sidewalk.

The Mangiapanes applied to the court for an order dismissing the claim against them. They argued that a simple breach of the bylaw did not impose responsibility on them for any resulting damages.

The lower court tossed out the city’s claim against them, and Vaughan appealed.

Writing for a three-judge panel at the Court of Appeal, Justice James MacPherson agreed with the trial decision and dismissed the claim against the Mangiapanes. The court ruled that there is no statutory or common-law duty on property owners to clear snow and ice from public sidewalks adjacent to their property.

There are only two exceptions. The first is if the owner is actually occupying the sidewalk, like a grocery store or coffee shop. The second is if something such as water flows off the owner’s property, making the sidewalk dangerous.

The Court of Appeal said that Ontario municipalities cannot pawn off their maintenance responsibilities to owners or occupiers of land next to city sidewalks.

Justice MacPherson wrote: “Canadian taxpayers expect that their municipal governments will move quickly and efficiently to keep the streets and the sidewalks clear and safe.”

Owners and occupiers of land next to a sidewalk may be risking a fine under a city bylaw for failing to keep it clear of snow and ice, but they are not responsible for damage for any resulting injuries.

Bob Aaron is Toronto real estate lawyer. His Title Page column appears on this blog, Move Smartly, and in The Toronto Star. You can follow Bob on Twitter @bobaaron2 and at his website aaron.ca Email Bob

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