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Keeping sidewalks safe

Sunday, May 1, 2016

City of North Vancouver

Melanie slipped on a municipal sidewalk, fell hard, and went to physiotherapy sessions to recover. Believing the city put pedestrians like her at risk due to sidewalk disrepair, Melanie contacted the city to ask for help with her medical bills. When the city’s insurance advisor wrote back denying her claim, Melanie called us.

We asked the city what steps it took to investigate Melanie’s claim, including the information considered by the city’s insurer. We also obtained the relevant records and information, including the city’s sidewalk maintenance standards.

When Melanie contacted the city about her fall, staff immediately began an inspection of the sidewalk. Notes and photographs documented why the city believed the section of sidewalk was in a reasonable state of repair. Further, no prior reports existed on file pointing to any risk. Without clear evidence showing a negligent act or omission by the city resulting in injury, the city did not believe it was legally liable for Melanie’s injury and consequently the insurer declined to pay her medical bills.

We determined that the city used a fair process to consider Melanie’s claim. The city had promptly inspected the section of sidewalk and observed no visible signs of breaks or other trip hazards. The reasons for rejecting the claim were not unreasonable and they were adequately explained to Melanie.

We did, however, note that the city had not established a regular schedule for conducting sidewalk inspections proactively. The closest policy the city had was its road maintenance policy, which stated simply that the city’s road system was maintained in response to reports. This policy was more than 25 years old and did not appear to specifically address sidewalks, or the regular inspection of sidewalks for defects.

We believed the city could achieve better administration if it developed a sidewalk inspection schedule and drew their attention to selected examples of policies we had seen from comparable municipalities. In addition to avoiding liability, such a policy could provide a higher level of service to residents and help ensure sidewalk imperfections do not develop into tripping hazards. As a result of our investigation, the city initiated.

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