Montreal found liable for broken ankle after woman slipped on icy sidewalk

The City of Montreal has been ordered to pay nearly $30,000 to a resident who broke her ankle after slipping on an icy sidewalk in January 2016.

Superior Court justice awards woman nearly $30K because city neglected to spread abrasives

By law, a municipality can't be held liable for a pedestrian slipping on the sidewalk unless the accident was a result of the city's negligence, the court said. (CBC)

The City of Montreal has been ordered to pay nearly $30,000 to a resident who broke her ankle after slipping on an icy sidewalk in January 2016.

Montreal failed to take "all reasonable steps" to ensure pedestrian safety by not spreading abrasives on the sidewalk after snow-clearing operations, ruled Quebec Superior Court Justice Louis J. Gouin on Nov. 19.

Maude Vermette Saint-Cyr, who needed surgery after the fall, sued the city for $84,861, citing temporary incapacity, permanent partial disability, pain and suffering and other damages, including loss of income, as she was unable to work for four months.

The judge ruled that pedestrians must, as much as possible, minimize the risk of a fall or accident when the sidewalk conditions are clearly bad.

Gouin determined that the woman was half responsible for the incident, as she should have exercised caution upon seeing the sidewalk's conditions. He reduced the woman's award, as a result.

Rough way to start the day

Vermette Saint-Cyr, who was 24 at the time of the incident, was walking over a thin layer of snow in the Southwest Borough, on her way to a school where she was scheduled to work as a substitute teacher for the first time.

After exiting the Metro, her feet found a hidden patch of ice and she fell near the intersection of Grand Trunk and Shearer streets, the court heard.

A passerby flagged down a patrol car and, as paramedics rushed to the scene, a Montreal police officer told Saint-Cyr that the sidewalk lacked abrasives.

There had been back-to-back snowfalls and snow-clearing operations in the two days leading up to the fall, Jan. 18 and 19. But snow had not been removed and no abrasives had been spread, the court found. 

"It would have been appropriate for abrasives to be spread rapidly in order to avoid the creation of ice sheets as much as possible and thus minimize the risk of falling, especially on the sidewalk located near the school," Gouin wrote in his ruling.

Pain and suffering 2 years later

Two years after the incident, the court heard, Vermette Saint-Cyr can no longer practise some of her usual sports activities, such as downhill skiing and snowshoeing.

Despite medical treatment and physical therapy, she is in physical pain to this day, although to a lesser degree than after the accident.

By law, no municipality may be held liable unless the claimant can show the accident was a result of the municipality's negligence.

Usually abrasives are spread on Montreal sidewalks, but that hadn't been done on a stretch of sidewalk near a school in the Southwest borough where the woman was to work on Jan. 20, 2016. (Isaac Olson/CBC)

"There is no presumption of fault against a city when a citizen falls on one of its sidewalks, even on an icy sidewalk," Gouin states in his ruling.

"A city must be diligent in its obligation to ensure the safety of citizens who use its sidewalks, and it must take reasonable steps to that end."

The city argued that nothing more could have been done to prevent Vermette Saint-Cyr's fall and that she failed to take all necessary precautions to avoid falling.

The city also argued that she was claiming damages that were "excessive and exaggerated."

While Gouin agreed to reduce Vermette Saint-Cyr's claim, he ruled there is "no doubt that the claimant suffered as a result of the fall."

He ascertained that, between pain and suffering, loss of income and other fees, damages should amount to $56,167.

Given that the judge put 50 per cent of the blame on Saint-Cyr, that amount was then divided in half — coming to the final amount of $28,083 with interest plus another $1,149 for legal fees.


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