With potholes popping and roads freezing, winter is the time when municipalities are most on guard for liability claims. But in the townships, sticking closely to provincial guidelines has led to virtually no weather-related legal issues.
Since mid-November, no liability complaints have been filed to the Waterloo Region Municipal Insurance Pool related to potholes, icy sidewalks, or poor road conditions. During the winter season, the claims in Woolwich have been limited to two cases involving property damage from leaky pipes, and damage to a car from a municipal snowplow (the latter settled at $200).
“The largest mechanism that we have for addressing the liability question is making sure that we comply with the minimum maintenance standards, which are put out by the province,” said Dan Kennaley, director of planning and engineering for Woolwich.
As per the Municipal Act, sidewalks must be inspected for surface discontinuity once each calendar year, with no more than 16 months between inspections. If significant heaves and cracks are discovered, a repair must be made within 14 days. On Class 1 highways, discontinuities above 5cm must be repaired within two days of discovery, or within 21 days on Class 5 highways.
The timeline is the same for traffic control signals, luminaries, and regulatory and warning signs, with inspections taking place every calendar year/within 16 months.
Other regulations include: road debris must be removed as soon as possible after discovery; cracks should be filled within 30 days on a Class 1 highway; For potholes on a Class 1 highway, a 600-square-centimetre pothole with an 8cm depth must be repaired within four days, while a 1,000-sq.-cm pothole of the same depth on a Class 5 highway must be filled in 30 days; weather must be monitored three times per calendar day; and icy roads must be treated as soon as possible after discovery.
Kevin Beggs, general manager of community services for Wellesley, notes that by following these guidelines, the township receives “very few” liability claims related to weather conditions.
“We’re probably the lowest in the Region of Waterloo. … We do regular patrols of the roads – that way you know what’s out there.”
He added, “On icy roads, salt melts, but it doesn’t always give you traction. We use probably 75 per cent sand here and 25 per cent salt – we have good results with that.”
As for potholes, “right now, potholes are not too bad. Things are frozen up, and when things are frozen we don’t have issues. There are a few here and there, but we’ll probably get more once we get a mild spell.”