Supreme Court ruling may force cities to spend millions for upkeep of rarely-used roads

The Supreme Court of Canada, REUTERS/Chris Wattie
Personal injuries, paralysis and the mental health issues that arise from such ailments are sad and terrible, and society should do everything it can to help people heal from, and adapt to, such problems.

That disclaimer seems important when discussing the plight of Shannon and Erica Deering, two Ontario sisters left wheelchair-bound by a single-vehicle accident nearly a decade ago.

Both Deerings suffered partial paralysis after a 2004 crash, when Shannon drove her car into a ditch between Oshawa and the municipality of Scugog. The communities were later found two-thirds responsible for the crash because of the quality of the road.

The Toronto Star reports that the Supreme Court of Canada upheld that ruling this week, creating a possible precedent for holding municipalities at fault for accidents that happen on their roadways.

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Roger Oatley, the Deerings’ lawyer, told the newspaper that the ruling states that municipalities “have to take reasonable steps to assess the safety of old rural roads and do their best to bring them up to modern standards.”

The ruling could also require the courts to establish a legal framework for how to determine whether or not a road is reasonably safe. It could force Canadian cities to invest millions of dollars into upkeep for rarely-used back roads and highways.

CBC photoWhile we would all love to live in a utopian world where every road is paved and lined, with flashing lights and warning signs posted every 50 yards, that doesn’t come cheap.

If towns are required to maintain every roadway to the level of the Trans-Canada Highway, it will mean a punishing increase in infrastructure spending and taxes. Scugog, one of the smaller communities in the Greater Toronto Area, has 200 kilometres of country road to maintain.

According to the 2010 ruling, the road had hidden dangers that required line markings and speed reduction warnings. Those changes have since been made to the roadway.

That should not be considered an admission of guilt, although that’s the way Shannon Deering sees it.

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The fact that Shannon Deering admitted she was speeding at the time of the crash does not seem to bear much weight in the case. It earned her one-third responsibility, according to the court. But it also earned her an undisclosed financial settlement.

No doubt Shannon and Erica Deering would trade that settlement for the ability to walk again, but they can’t. No doubt the next person to injure themselves driving into the ditch will consider asking for the same payoff.