When you have unlimited tax dollars to pay the costs you can challenge court rulings all the way up to the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC). That is the knowledge that can be gained from the recently released judgment of the SCC involving the liability of the City of Hamilton with respect to a 2007 collision at the intersection of Upper Centennial Parkway and Green Mountain Road.
The subject collision involved a female driver, Dawn Safranyos, who attempted to make a left turn from westbound Green Mountain Road, onto southbound Upper Centennial Parkway. A northbound Chevrolet Cavalier driven by Daryl McHugh struck the Safranyhos vehicle in the intersection thus causing serious injuries to several child occupants. This collision occurred at approximately 0100 hours and therefore the darkness would have been a factor in Ms. Safranyos’ evaluation of where she should stop at the stop-sign-controlled intersection governing her direction of travel. A traffic stop bar (a wide, white painted line) is generally painted at such a location to guide drivers to the correct stop position where she could properly see approaching traffic on Upper Centennial Parkway. Because the City of Hamilton removed the stop bar Ms. Safraynos testified that she stopped at the stop sign, further back from where she would if the line had been present. This, along with the presence of a guardrail which partially obstructed her line of sight, were the key features of the site that led the trial judge to determine that the City of Hamilton was 25% at fault. Ms. Safranyhos was judged 50% at fault and Mr. McHugh was 25% at fault for the collision.
The Appeal Court enlightened the ongoings of the original trial which were not published. For example the trial judge observed that the City of Hamilton failed to deliver three key witnesses who were City officials that would have explained the intersection design and the City’s policies with respect to matters such as painting stop bars. The judge inferred that this was because, had those municipal officials testified at trial they would have prejudiced the City’s stance. If this tactic by the City appears unusual it is not. It is something that I have personally experienced while testifying at trial. In some instances a judge recognizes the tactic for what it is while in other very similar instances it is never addressed.
By common sense the City of Hamilton should have recognized that it shared some liability for the collison. The 25% determined by the trial judge should have been accepted and the matter should have been done with. But that was not the case. The City first appealed the matter to the Ontario Court of Appeal. The Appeal court judgment was written by Justice Paciocco. In the Appeal judgment the liability of the City of Hamilton was upheld whereas the liability of Mr. McHugh was dismissed. If I read the result correctly, If McHugh’s 25% was removed from the equation then the remaining liability was shared by the two remaining parties, Safranyhos and the City of Hamilton. So it would seem that the Appeal process would result in the City of Hamilton being responsible for more of the damages after the appeal than beforehand. Not satisfied the City of Hamilton then Appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada, where it lost that appeal without explanation.
While I am not a legal expert I recognize the substantial costs that would be incurred by the City of Hamilton in the two Appeals that it lost. These costs are not borne by the City’s representatives, whether they be the staff or politicians. They are borne by the general taxpayers of Hamilton. What notice is made to the general taxpayers of the conclusions of these legal proceedings is likely to be very minimal. Although the Hamilton Spectator newspaper published an article about the matter it also published another article explaining that the latest tax hike would be 2.5%. No doubt the average taxpayer would pay attention to the second article because it is a direct reference to his/her pocketbook. But the taxpayer would be clueless to the implications of that first article.
The point is, certain deficiencies in roadways do not need to exist. They can be simply identified by conducting regular inspections of roads. Does the City of Hamilton conduct such regular inspections of their roadways? And if they do why were these problems, that became so costly to the City, not identified and corrected? In my experience the City of Hamilton is not an exceptional case. The very problem of identifying and correcting road safety hazards before they become deadly exists throughout Ontario and beyond.