Court of Appeal dismisses City's appeal of trip and fall verdict

In reasons for judgment released today, a division of the BC Court of Appeal dismissed an appeal brought by the City of Salmon Arm in respect of trip and fall which occurred on a city sidewalk.  In Binette v. Salmon Arm (City), 2018 BCCA 150, the court upheld the verdict of the trial judge finding the city liable to the plaintiff in negligence in circumstances where the plaintiff tripped over a protruding piece of metal from a city sidewalk.  Some months prior to the incident, the city had been alerted that a broken sign was found near the site, and as such should have been aware that the metal base of that sign could be a potential hazard to citizens.  A city employee initially searched the area for the base of the sign, but could not find it as there was snow on the ground.  No further searches were conducted thereafter.  The court of appeal said:

[1]            This is an appeal from a summary trial judgment that found the City of Salmon Arm (“City”) liable in negligence for injuries suffered when Cindy Lee Binette tripped over the metal base of a broken traffic sign that was protruding from the sidewalk.

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[4]            In my view, the judge correctly approached the issue as being whether the City breached its standard of care by failing to follow its standard practice in circumstances that it knew or ought to have known created an immediate hazard in a particular area. This is not a question about the general policy of replacing signs of different types. As such, this case does not have implications for that general policy and does not alter it in the ways the City contended on appeal. Rather, the appeal turns on whether the trial judge was entitled to make certain critical findings of fact sufficient to trigger the City’s standard practice in responding to an immediate hazard.  I will address that question first.

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[20]        Based on the judge’s findings, the City knew of the potential hazard, knew why it could not be dealt with immediately, and knew the vicinity of the potential hazard. The judge concluded that making no effort to prioritize dealing with identifying the location of the hazard as soon as it would reasonably be possible to do so, that is, when the snow in that area had disappeared, was a breach of its standard practice and the standard of care. Those conclusions were open to him on the evidence.

[21]        The judge did not, nor do I intend to, comment on exactly what was required of the City in these circumstances. That decision rests with the City. The issue here is not the sufficiency of the actions taken but the lack of action. The City did not make best efforts, regardless of what those efforts would or could have been. The City needed to address the hazard as soon as reasonably possible. The judge concluded, based on the lack of any snow banks in the photos, that the area had been snow free for some time and that if best efforts had been used the hazard would have been identified and dealt with.

The full decision can be found here: http://www.courts.gov.bc.ca/jdb-txt/ca/18/01/2018BCCA0150.htm