Municipalities Afforded Additional Protection As Occupiers: Ellis V City Of Lethbridge, 2020 ABQB 783

Published date18 January 2021
Subject MatterGovernment, Public Sector, Litigation, Mediation & Arbitration, Constitutional & Administrative Law, Trials & Appeals & Compensation, Professional Negligence
Law FirmCLC (Canadian Litigation Counsel)
AuthorMr Drew Wilson, Associate ( Brownlee LLP)

The Alberta Court of Queen's Bench recently upheld the lower Court's decision in Ellis v City of Lethbridge, 2019 ABPC 276, confirming that section 530 of the Municipal Government Act will preclude a finding of liability under the Occupiers' Liability Act when a plaintiff's damages are caused directly by a municipality's system of inspection and maintenance.

Background

On June 24, 2017, the Plaintiff attended the Dragon Boat Festival held at Henderson Lake Park in Lethbridge, Alberta. Unfortunately, the Plaintiff stepped into a sunken slightly sunken sprinkler head (located within the beer garden area) that had been partially covered by grass causing her to break her foot. The sprinkler head was only visible if you were standing directly above it.

The Plaintiff commenced legal action against the City of Lethbridge alleging it was liable in negligence under the Occupiers' Liability Act. The City of Lethbridge denied liability on the basis it took reasonable steps to make the premises reasonably safe thereby satisfying its duty of care under the Occupiers' Liability Act. Alternatively, the City of Lethbridge pled that it was owed immunity pursuant to section 530 of the Municipal Government Act.

Section 530 of the Municipal Government Act states a municipality is not liable for damages caused by the system of inspection and maintenance it chooses to implement. Here, the City of Lethbridge was aware that sprinkler heads could sink over time as the sprinkler system was specifically designed to allow the sprinkler head some movement for when mowers drove over to avoid breaking the main water line located beneath. However, this would cause a small number of sprinkler heads to gradually sink over time.

Given the City of Lethbridge was responsible for roughly 2,000 sprinkler heads alone in Henderson Lake Park, it implemented a system of inspection and maintenance where the irrigation crew were instructed at tail gate meetings to watch for potentially sunken sprinkler heads throughout their shift and raise if identified. This system also formed part of the City of Lethbridge's Service Standards Manual for which the Trial Judge termed as the "keep your eyes open approach".

The Trial Judge found the area where the Plaintiff fell was an area of high traffic compared to other areas of the park given a temporary beer garden area had been set up and the high rate of attendance for the Dragon Boat Festival. Accordingly, the Trial Judge found that additional steps should...

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