Ontario: can you assess intersection design? (the dangers of aggressive limitations defences)

Ontario courts are filled with pro forma and ill-conceived limitations defences.  Sometimes these stand out, particularly when advanced by institutions that maybe shouldn’t be too creative with limitations defences.  Take Sun v. Ferreira as an example.  The Plaintiffs claimed that the City of Toronto and the TTC are laible for the location of a bus stop and a cross-walk.  The TTC and the City of Toronto moved for judgment on a limitations defence that would have required the court to find that the plaintiffs, through their observations, ought to have known that an intersection was defectively designed.  It strikes me as rather fraught to suggest that a reasonable person with the abilities and in the circumstances of someone who knows nothing about standards of intersection design could assess whether one was designed competently.  The court agreed:

[45]           The Claims, in these proceedings against the moving parties are that there was an alleged design deficiency with respect to the TTC bus stop, and the adjoining crosswalks. Were the Moving Parties, by designing  an allegedly inherently dangerous situation, involving passengers, many of which would be children exiting a TTC bus, and crossing a busy highway to get to school, negligent as they did not take the appropriate care required in designing and constructing and whether the Moving Parties failed to warn of the hazard their design and construction created.  The main argument of the moving parties is that the responding parties were familiar with the accident location, the location of the TTC stop and location of the cross-walks adjacent to the School, and the absence of a traffic light or cross-walks.

[46]            The moving parties submit that the fact that the City or the TTC or both changed the configuration of the intersection following the accident “is not actionable”. The respondents, however, submit that the change raised the question of whether the change was made to remedy the negligent design of the accident location, and if so, whether the City and the TTC were aware of this negligent design, or ought to have been aware of this negligent design, prior to the accident. If they were aware of the negligent design, what steps, if any, did the Moving Parties take to rectify this deficiency before the accident occurred.  These will be the issues at trial.

[47]           The issue for this court is when did the Plaintiffs or Defendant know or ought to have known of the alleged deficient design, and the consequent failure to warn of the deficiency on the date of the accident.

[48]           Applying the analysis of the court in the cases of Shukster and Frederick, I find that there is a genuine issue requiring a trial on when the alleged deficiency with the intersection was known or ought to have been known by the responding parties. They knew of the accident location, but did they have the knowledge required to question if the intersection was defectively designed?  Further, when did they know that it was appropriate to take legal action against the moving parties?

[49]            The position of the Moving Parties is that the Respondents should have concluded that legal action would be appropriate to commence an action on the basis of their own observations and opinions of the alleged negligent design of municipal infrastructure or the configuration of the street and without the benefit of expert advice and the knowledge that the alleged design defect of the accident location had been corrected.  I do not agree that such is a reasonable conclusion for the court to reach.  In my view, such personal observations would not be sufficient for the Respondents to conclude that legal action would be appropriate, especially in light of the position taken by the City of Toronto that the intersection did not meet its criteria for the installation of a traffic light.

[50]           Rather, I am of the view that I can not make the findings that would be required to satisfy the test set out in Hryniak by our Supreme Court of Canada, namely, does the evidence allow me to fairly and justly adjudicate this dispute?

[51]           I find that following the guidance of our Courts, which I have referred to above, the respondents have established that there is a genuine issue requiring a trial on the discoverability of these causes of action, as it may not have been legally appropriate for the responding parties to commence litigation without any evidentiary basis, other than their own observations and opinions.  This issue requires a trial and for this reason, the motions must be dismissed

This decision is a reminder of the importance of considering the question asked by s. 5(1)(b) when advancing (and responding to) limitations defences.