Ottawa

Cities lobby Ontario to change liability laws

Ontario municipalites are urging the provincial government to reform a law they say makes cities targets in multi-million-dollar lawsuits.

Ontario municipalities are urging the provincial government to reform a law they say makes cities targets in multi-million-dollar lawsuits.

Municipal leaders say the province's Negligence Act allows plaintiffs in civil suits to target cities for litigation when other defendants don't have the means to pay high damage awards.

At issue is something called the "one per cent rule", which allows a plaintiff to recover all of his or her damages from any one of a number of defendants, regardless of the defendant's actual share in the fault - a share could be as little as one per cent.

The issue was first raised when municipalities put forth a position paper in April, and was again a topic of discussion in Windsor at the Association of Municipalities of Ontario meeting Tuesday.

Ottawa city councillor Peter Hume, the outgoing president of the AMO, said the Negligence Act has put a financial strain on Ontario's cities.

"If we're one-per-cent liable for a problem, we should be paying one per cent of the settlement, not 100 per cent of the settlement, which is what we're starting to see because municipalities have deep pockets," said Hume. Often municipalities settle out of court to avoid potentially large payouts.

Ottawa city solicitor Rick O'Connor gives the example of a lawsuit four years ago after a car accident at an Ottawa intersection.

A car turned left at a traffic light, and right into the path of an oncoming vehicle. A passenger of one of the vehicles suffered a traumatic brain injury and is confined to a wheelchair.

O'Connor said the lawsuit that followed named both drivers, but also the City of Ottawa, because it was alleged the green turning arrow didn't give motorists long enough to clear the intersection.

"It's a $20 million law suit if the two drivers are found guilty and the city is found liable for a small degree of liability," said O'Connor.

"We could likely be on the hook for millions of dollars in that case."

With files from the CBC's Alistair Steele

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