by SUSAN MANN
The Ontario Good Roads Association is working to get the Ontario Municipal Act changed so municipalities are protected from nuisance damage claims due to road salt.
The move comes after the association learned Lambton County’s insurance company, Frank Cowan Company, will not be appealing an Ontario Superior Court decision released Jan. 16 awarding $107,352 in damages to farmers Joseph and Evelyn Steadman for crop losses and depreciated land value. The damages stemmed from the county’s use of road salt for winter road maintenance along a road bordering the Steadmans’ 96-acre cash crop farm near Sarnia. The Steadmans claimed losses from 1998 to 2013.
“The county was found liable in nuisance,” according to the Frank Cowan Company news release. Company officials couldn’t be reached for comment.
The company had the Ontario Superior Court decision reviewed by two separate legal firms to assess if there was the potential for an appeal. “We were advised that the verdict as outlined in Justice (Thomas J.) Carey’s reasons is not appealable. Therefore, Frank Cowan Company will not appeal this decision,” the release says.
David Cribbs, Lambton County clerk and solicitor, says the county has membership in the Ontario Good Roads Association and the Association of Municipalities of Ontario and it will be part of the efforts to lobby the province “to make legislative changes so that no other municipality is tagged with a decision as unreasonable as this one.”
The Ontario Good Roads Association’s mandate is to represent the public works interests of municipalities.
Joe Tiernay, Good Roads Association executive director, says currently there is a provision in the Municipal Act dealing with nuisance complaints against municipalities for sewer back up in people’s basements when sanitary sewers get overburdened during storms. “Municipalities have protection under the legislation to prevent being sued for those types of events. We’d be looking for a similar type of protection for what are maintenance activities.”
Municipalities are required by legislation to maintain their roads. Tiernay says under the Municipal Act municipalities “are required to keep their roads in what they call a state of good repair, which means they have to be kept clear in the winter time and potholes have to be repaired and things like that.”
The Good Roads Association is planning to meet with officials from the ministries of transportation and municipal affairs and housing “to determine how best to address this issue,” an association press release says.
Tiernay says the association wants to find out what’s the easiest and most expeditious way to address this. In the meantime, the association is concerned other people could potentially sue their municipality for property damage from road salt.
For the Steadmans, its good news that Lambton County and its insurance company aren’t appealing, says their lawyer Robert B. Gray of Gray Bruce Cimetta Barristers and Solicitors in Sarnia. “It has been a long and uphill battle and they’re very pleased to have the matter brought to a conclusion.”
Gray says the county and its insurance company must pay the $107,352 damages plus $151,648 in costs, which are the Steadmans’ legal fees and disbursements.
Justice Carey’s decision included that remedial action “be taken to hopefully prevent the matter from reoccurring. What type of remedial action should to be taken has yet to be finalized,” he says, adding that may include windbreaks during the winter and improvements to drainage from the roadway onto the Steadmans’ land. BF