The municipality argued that the man should have been able to prevent the severity of his accident while falling. (Photo: iStock)
How responsible is a municipality in making sure people are safe while on a bike trail?
Quite responsible if this Ontario Court of Appeal case is anything to go by. The case is an appeal from a lower court decision that found the County of Bruce guilty for a bike accident that caused severe injuries to a man.
The municipality decided to open a mountain bike park that would feature a number of bike trails and a skill development area. The park has several wooden obstacles that would prepare bike riders for the trail. The grounds surrounding the obstacles were made of limestone topped by a slim layer of soil.
A man, who was an experienced mountain bike rider decided to attempt an obstacle called “Free Fall”, a high and steep teeter-totter structure over two feet off the ground which had to be taken at the right speed.
Unfortunately when he approached the pivot point, he didn’t have enough speed and went over the handlebars, landing on his head. He broke his neck and became a quadriplegic.
Free Fall was a “hidden or unexpected hazard”, the original trial decision found. The municipality didn’t provide proper signage for the obstacle which would warn of risk and injury or that gave instructions on how to use the obstacle.
There was also a failure to monitor obstacle risks, as well as the accidents that had already occurred, including one serious accident in which another man had broken his neck.
The municipality argued that the man should have been able to prevent the severity of his accident while he was falling. That argument was soundly rejected as the court found he couldn’t have made a “perfect manoeuvre” in the “agony of the moment.”
Under the Occupier’s Liability Act, the municipality has a duty to ensure that people on the premises are “reasonably safe”. This applies to any activities done on the premises.
The trial court ruled that the municipality was fully responsible for the man’s injuries, because the risks and hazards of the obstacle weren’t made clear to him by the municipality. The appeals court agreed.
The appeals judge dismissed the municipality’s appeal and ordered the municipality to pay the man $25,000 for his legal expenses.