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Personal Injury

Can you sue the city after a sledding accident? It depends

The courts attempt to balance fairness when ruling on lawsuits filed by those injured in sledding accidents, says Ottawa personal injury lawyer David Hollingsworth citing two recent Ontario cases involving tobogganing incidents.

He tells AdvocateDaily.com that the Occupier's Liability Act outlines a property owner’s legal responsibility in ensuring safety for anyone on the premises.

The Act stipulates that “as an owner, you owe a duty to people to keep them reasonably safe while they’re on the property,” says Hollingsworth, principal of Ottawa Personal Injury Lawyers.

“Families who have a skating rink on their front lawn should be aware that it’s about being reasonably safe, and obviously with these sports, there are inherent risks and dangers, but as long as there are no hidden hazards, they should be okay,” he says.

He notes that the two recent matters are good examples of the balance sought by the courts.

The first involved a man who suffered serious injuries when his toboggan veered into a hidden drainage ditch, costing the City of Hamilton about $900,000 in settlement and legal fees. This case led the city to institute sledding bans, he says.

“The basis upon which he was successful was that the municipality knew there was a danger, that it was hidden and they thought about doing something to protect people, but didn’t take proactive steps,” Hollingsworth says.

In the other case in Leamington, a woman filed a $1-million lawsuit against the municipality after she suffered a back injury while sledding, he says.

The court rejected her claim, noting that “while there was a duty of care, that duty was limited to not creating a danger with the deliberate intent of doing harm or damage to the person and to not act with reckless disregard. In this case, the risks were willingly assumed by the plaintiff."

“The defendant says that the hill had been used for years with no complaints and no injuries and that the plaintiff was aware of the condition of the hill after many years of use. The defendant says there is no evidence that this hill was dangerous or that there was a hidden trap or obstacle that caused the plaintiff to fall off her sled,” the judge wrote.

Hollingsworth says the differing results demonstrate that the court aims to provide balanced decisions, based on the individual facts in each case.

“The courts want to be fair,” he says.

Generally speaking, Hollingsworth says there is a two-year time limit set by the Limitations Act of Ontario for the launch of any lawsuit seeking a claim for injury.

“It’s all about the calculated risks,” he says. “You don’t want to bubble wrap your children, but you have to be smart about it."

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