Why it pays to sue the city... and often too much
Hamilton taxpayers often end up paying more than their fair share in liability damages when someone sues the city. And now council is asking the province to help stop it.
The city is often named in liability suits because it’s perceived as having deep pockets, said Janice Atwood-Petkovski, city solicitor.
And even when it’s found to have only a sliver — 1 per cent — of the liability, it often ends up paying the lion’s share of damages because it has the money and the other defendants don’t.
Councillors voted on Wednesday to ask the province to amend the Negligence Act, the law that permits the “1-per cent rule.”
If that happened, it would fix a “huge” and expensive problem for Hamilton, Atwood-Petkovski said.
“This is not occasional,” she said. “This gives reason to plaintiffs to name municipalities.”
Here’s an example of how it works:
Several years ago in another city, Atwood-Petkovski said, a university student fell through the floor of an improperly constructed second-storey balcony. The student was paralyzed, which meant a large damage claim.
While the landlord was found to have the bulk of the liability, the city also shared a small percentage because the city inspects buildings, she said.
When it came time to pay out the multi-million-dollar damages, the landlord’s insurance maxed out at around a million. So the city had to pay the rest — because it could.
For this reasons, a plaintiff’s lawyers will find any reason to include the city in a lawsuit, said Ron Sabo, assistant city solicitor.
“If you can ascribe a portion of the liability to the city, then the city could end up bearing the full financial cost.”
The city of Hamilton paid out $2.5 million in liability claims in 2012.
Seventy-one of the 842 claims were for people who stumbled and fell on curbs and sidewalks, costing the city nearly $1 million. The second highest category was falling on an icy sidewalk, which accounted for 19 claims.
Other issues included wet paint on the road, missing signs, tree roots and water main breaks.
The motion, which mirrors the position of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario, asks the province to give cities “effective protections from claims, costs and damage awards.”