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Winter Road Maintenance and Liability: What You Should Know

Northern Ontario winters can make for treacherous driving. Slush, ice, and sleet make roads slippery. Visibility can also be impacted by less daylight, winter storms, and blowing snow. There tends to be an increase in car accidents around this time of year due to poor winter weather conditions. That leads to an increase in personal injury claims.

The good news is that many winter driving accidents can be prevented. There are steps you can take to stay safe on the roads this winter, which we will discuss below. We’ll also discuss liability issues if you’re injured in a motor vehicle accident because winter road maintenance fell short.  

driving at night during a winter storm in northern ontario

How To Stay Safe on The Roads This Winter

The best way to stay safe is to avoid driving altogether in a storm or when whiteout conditions are present. Check the weather forecast before you go; if severe weather or heavy snowfall is expected, your safest option is to stay off the roads.

If you can’t avoid or delay travel—or you get caught on the road by an unexpected severe weather event—there are steps you can take to protect yourself, your passengers and other road users, including these:

  • Keep an eye on your speed. Remember that the speed limit is for ideal conditions. Reduce your vehicle’s speed gradually if conditions worsen.

  • Never pass a snowplow or other winter road maintenance vehicles.

  • Leave as much space as possible between your vehicle and the vehicles around you. This will allow you time to brake safely if needed and react if other vehicles lose control due to ice, snow, etc.

  • Try to stay on main roads that are more likely to be better maintained and better lit.

  • If road conditions get particularly dangerous, consider pulling over in a safer place, such as a parking lot, to wait out the worst of the storm. Don’t park your vehicle on the travelled portion of the road.

  • If your vehicle gets stuck, call for help and stay in your vehicle for warmth. Turn on your emergency 4-way flashers until help arrives.

It’s highly recommended that you carry an emergency kit in your vehicle throughout the winter. It should include things like a cell phone and charger, first aid kit, extra clothes/blankets, a flashlight, matches, shovel, sand/salt, flares, drinking water and non-perishable food.

a "road closed" sign with pylon on a snow-filled winter road outside of Sault Ste Marie

Who Is Responsible When Winter Road Maintenance Falls Short?

Proper road maintenance can prevent winter driving accidents. In Ontario, responsibility for monitoring road conditions, maintaining the condition of the roads, and addressing unsafe road conditions falls to either the local municipality or the provincial government, depending on which of the two oversees that particular bridge or stretch of roadway.

If you are hurt in a car accident due to unsafe road conditions, the government body responsible for maintaining the roadway may be liable for the injuries that resulted. You can bring a personal injury lawsuit directly against the appropriate municipality or provincial government responsible. Or, as is often the case, the driver of another vehicle that collided with yours may point the finger at a government body, naming them as a party in your personal injury lawsuit.

How To Prove Liability for A Car Accident Caused by Poor Road Conditions 

When winter road maintenance falls short and a vehicle accident occurs, there are two different laws that apply to the issue of liability.  The law that will apply depends on the government body that controls the roadway in question:

  • When a motor vehicle accident has been caused by poor winter road maintenance on a bridge or highway controlled by a municipality, liability is governed by section 44 of Ontario’s Municipal Act, 2001, S.O. 2001, c. 25.

  • If, however, the motor vehicle accident occurred on a road controlled by the provincial government, liability is governed by section 33 of Ontario’s Public Transportation and Highway Improvement Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. P. 50.

Once you have determined which authority to bring your claim against, you must then gather evidence to prove that the government body failed to take reasonable steps to eliminate or reduce danger within a reasonable time of becoming aware of it (or within a reasonable time after it ought to have been aware of it).

If your personal injury claim is against a municipality, consideration must also be given to the Minimum Maintenance Standards for Municipal Highways. When it comes to road maintenance issues such as patrolling to check conditions and clearing ice and snow from highways, Ontario municipalities must meet these detailed Minimum Maintenance Standards (“MMS”). If the municipality proves that it met the MMS, it provides a defence to your personal injury claim.

Another important consideration is that there are very short limitation periods when bringing a road maintenance personal injury lawsuit against a municipality or the Province of Ontario. You must give written notice of your claim and the injuries you sustained within 10 days of the accident.  If the notice deadline is missed, it will normally bar your lawsuit, unless a judge finds that there is reasonable excuse for the insufficiency of the notice and that the municipality is not prejudiced in its defence, in the case of death as a result of the injury, or other factors that may still allow one to bring an action.


Speak With a Personal Injury Lawyer in Sault Ste. Marie

The personal injury claims process can feel overwhelming. You don’t need to navigate it alone.

We very strongly recommend that you contact a personal injury lawyer as soon as possible after a winter driving accident. There are complex liability issues and tight limitation periods that apply in these cases. Delay can greatly jeopardize—and sometimes completely eliminate—the right to bring a claim for compensation.

The legal team at Feifel Gualazzi can assist you if you or a loved one has been injured. We specialize in personal injury claims and provide personalized support so that you receive the compensation you are entitled to. Contact us immediately at our Sault Ste. Marie office for a free consultation to see whether you have a case and ensure deadlines are met. We provide our services to residents in the entire surrounding district of Algoma.



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