Each winter, slip and fall lawyers in Ontario receive a surge of consultation requests related to falls on snow and ice. While most slip and fall events are unavoidable, a small number can be attributed to municipalities’ failure to maintain safe, accessible sidewalks. In Toronto, nearly 30,000 emergency department visits and 2,800 hospitalizations were linked to winter falls between 2006 and 2015; in Ottawa, the city was sued five times for falls on sidewalks last winter alone.
Inaccessible sidewalks are a life-threatening reality for the province’s growing population of senior citizens. With every fall, seniors are at increased risk of breaking bones and experiencing concussions. They are also more likely to experience complications from these injuries.
In Ottawa, the Council on Aging – an organization that engages in advocacy, education, research and planning on behalf of the city’s seniors – has launched an initiative to improve sidewalk accessibility. The program, dubbed Snow Moles, recruits seniors to document sidewalk conditions and report findings to the city. It has received praise from slip and fall lawyers and the Ottawa’s director of roads and parking services, Luc Gagné.
There are more than 2,300 kilometres of public sidewalks in Ottawa, less than half of which are considered high-priority for clearance. Understandably, the city focuses on maintaining sidewalks in tourism and employment centres including the downtown core and the ByWard Market. It also emphasizes clearing city cycling routes and sidewalks in front of emergency facilities and commercial or retail storefronts.
However, the city has not updated its removal procedure since the early 2000s. The Council on Aging believes this should be a priority.
“I think we all want to improve the walkable situation in our area,” Catherine Read, a Snow Moles volunteer, told the CBC in January. “It used to be snow, only snow, and now it’s this freeze-thaw cycle. So the city’s got to get up to date. They say that’s their reason that they can’t do anything, but they’ve got to find ways to do something.”
Gagné conceded on CBC Radio’s Ottawa Morning program that service levels have not changed in well over a decade. He did not promise updates in the future.
“Back at amalgamation, they looked at the services that the 11 different municipalities had put together and harmonized them,” he said. “I can tell you that many of the former municipalities had very, very similar standards to what we currently have today. They really haven’t changed.”
While the work done by Ottawa’s Snow Moles is sure to improve sidewalk conditions, some slip and fall accidents are unavoidable. If you or a member of your family has been injured in a fall, contact Neinstein Personal Injury Lawyers today to arrange a free, no-obligation consultation. Our team of experienced slip and fall lawyers can explain your legal standing and provide guidance on your road to recovery.
Image credit: Peter Enyeart/Wikimedia Commons