Can rural drivers ignore stop signs?

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That was a key question in a 2012 Ontario case where a rural municipality was found to be partially on the hook for a driver’s injuries after a teenager drove through a stop sign and crashed into a concrete bridge.

The town of Dutton-Dunwich, Ont., was ordered to pay half of driver Andrew Fordham’s medical bills after he sustained brain damage from the 2007 accident.

In her ruling, Superior Court Justice Johanne Morissette stated that it was common practice for motorists in the municipality to disregard stop signs — “if they consider it safe” — and the municipality was in the wrong for not having posted a warning sign that the road curved after the intersection. Morissette still split the damages, however, because she found Fordham negligent for not obeying the stop sign.

The verdict sent shockwaves through rural municipalities across Ontario. But before rural drivers could go wild on their roads, the Ontario Court of Appeal recently stepped in to quash the ruling.

In Fordham v. Dutton-Dunwich (Municipality), the Court of Appeal found that Morissette misapplied the “test for assessing a municipality’s statutory duty of repair” and dismissed the original judgment.

The decision stated: “A municipality’s duty of repair is limited to ensuring that its roads can be driven safely by ordinary drivers exercising reasonable care. A municipality has no duty to keep its roads safe for those who drive negligently. Running a stop sign at 80 km per hour is negligent driving. The undisputed evidence is that the road Fordham was driving on posed no hazard to a driver who stopped at the stop sign, or even to one who slowed to 50 km per hour at the intersection.”

The Court of Appeal rebuked Morissette’s finding as “legally irrelevant,” stating: “There cannot be one standard of reasonable driving for ‘rural drivers’ and another for ‘city drivers’. There is but one standard of reasonable driving. That standard requires drivers to obey traffic signs. Thus Dutton-Dunwich had no duty to install an additional sign on its road.”

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