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Woman’s lawsuit against city upheld and new trial for damages pending

·3 min read

A Nelson woman is proving that you can fight city hall.

Taryn Joy Marchi sued the City of Nelson for negligence following an injury in 2015 and could have the eyes of the nation on her when her case returns to the Supreme Court of Canada.

The higher court judges ruled Thursday that the city owed Marchi a “duty of care” with its snow removal practices at the time, and that a new trial is now required to assess if the city had “breached that duty of care and, as a result, whether it should pay damages to Ms. Marchi.”

The city can be held responsible for injuries caused by its snow clearing decisions, the Supreme Court justices agreed, and that its snow removal practices are not immune from negligence and liability claims — a precedence that could impact future decisions against municipalities across Canada.

“Core policy decisions are based on public policy considerations, such as economic, social and political factors. They must be rational and not taken in bad faith,” noted the Supreme Court decision.

Although core policy decisions are immune from negligence claims, noted Supreme Justice Karakatsanis and Justice Martin, operational decisions to carry out a policy are not policy decisions.

“(T)he fact that the word ‘policy’ is found in a written document” does not settle the question, the justices wrote in their decision.

The Supreme Court ruled that all Marchi needed to prove was she would not have injured herself if it hadn’t been for the way city crews plowed the street.

Marchi suffered a leg injury while attempting to climb over a snowbank Jan. 6, 2015 after city crews removed snow on Baker Street following a heavy snowfall.

For their part, the city argued in the initial trial that it should not have to pay any damages to Marchi since snow clearing decisions are “core policy decisions” that cannot be touched by negligence claims.

The trial judge felt the city’s argument — that people living in a city that has heavy snowfalls should take responsibility when walking — was enough to rule in their favour. The judge agreed with the city that its snow clearing decision was a core policy decision, meaning the city did not have to pay any damages to Marchi.

But the B.C. Court of Appeal overturned the trial judge’s decision, prompting a move to a higher court when the city also appealed.

The trial

“After a heavy snowfall in January 2015, snow clearing crews for the City of Nelson in British Columbia started plowing the streets.

“Not long after, Ms. Taryn Joy Marchi parked her car on Baker Street in the downtown area. City crews had already plowed the street, but they had created a snowbank along the curb of the sidewalk.

“Ms. Marchi decided to walk over the snowbank to get from her car to the sidewalk and seriously injured her leg. She sued the city for negligence.”

Source: Supreme Court of Canada

What is a “duty of care?”

A person making a negligence claim must prove four things in court: a duty of care; a breach of that duty; the cause; and any damages.

A duty of care means the other person or organization was required to do, or avoid doing, something that could likely cause harm.

Source: Supreme Court of Canada

Timothy Schafer, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Nelson Daily

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