Personal Injury

Suing the city part 2

By Tony Poland, AdvocateDaily.com Associate Editor

In the final instalment of a two-part series, Kamloops personal injury lawyer Matthew Ford discusses the steps to take when filing a negligence claim against a city or municipality.

It’s important to be timely and thorough when filing a negligence claim against the city, says Kamloops personal injury lawyer Matthew Ford.

Ford, partner with Cates Ford Epp, says suing the local government for negligence after a slip and fall can be difficult because they have policies in place to take care of such things as road and sidewalk maintenance that offer protection not provided to the average citizen.

However, if you believe you do have a claim, you should act quickly, he advises.

“You must give notice to the city within 60 days of the accident,” Ford tells AdvocateDaily.com.

It is also vital to know the time limit for filing a lawsuit with the courts, he says. In British Columbia, a six-month deadline has been established, although the B.C. Court of Appeal has ruled that a claim can proceed as long as it is filed within two years of the mishap.

The injured person can send a letter of notice to the city themselves, Ford says, although it is advantageous to have a lawyer do it.

“As a lawyer, I know what needs to go into these notice letters, and we try to write them in such a way that the client is not exactly bound by what is written in the letter,” he says. “We’ve done it a number of times, so we have an understanding of what to say.”

However, Ford says if a person sends a letter on their own behalf, they can be held to the information they provide.

“If I’m writing the letter on behalf of a client I can put the city on notice by saying, for example, that my understanding is the plaintiff tripped at this location, and my understanding is this resulted in chronic pain,” he says. “When I put it that way the plaintiff can't be cross-examined on the contents of the letter because it is my understanding of the incident.”

Ford says he would try to keep the initial correspondence “a little vague in terms of the injuries and the mechanism of the trip.”

“That’s probably going to be sufficient, and it doesn’t really pin you down,” he says. “The other thing you want to do right away is prove your case.”

After the accident, “It’s really important to promptly go to your doctor or an emergency department for treatment,” Ford says.

“We’re talking about the same day or the next day,” he says. “The defence can claim that if you haven’t gone to a doctor within a couple of weeks of the accident, the injuries could be caused by something else.”

Ford says the plaintiff must also take steps to gather evidence in a timely manner.

“You have to figure out exactly where you tripped or slipped and that becomes really important if, say, you tripped over some uneven concrete slabs on the sidewalk,” he says.

Ford says it is possible for the city to argue that the sidewalk was not a safety hazard if it is only slightly uneven and therefore didn’t need to be repaired.

In such cases, he advises taking photographs of the pavement using a ruler or other means to show the unevenness of the sidewalk.

“And you need to do that soon because your letter has put the city on notice of the trip, and they will go to the scene of the accident and might repair it before you get a chance to take pictures and measurements,” Ford says.

After taking photographs of the accident scene, the plaintiff should also seek out any witnesses and get their statements along with contact information.

“Those are the kind of steps that you want to take to protect yourself,” he says.

Click here to read part one where Ford explores how filing a negligence claim against a municipality differs from taking action against a private citizen.

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