The Ontario legislature is considering ways to reduce municipal insurance premiums; unfortunately, it may be at the expense of your legal rights. Recently, Julia Munro, PC MPP for York Simcoe, stated that “medium-sized municipalities, similar to the town of East Gwillimbury . . . have seen an average increase of 35% in liability insurance premiums.” Provincial politicians are looking at using legislation to limit compensation for victims of municipal negligence.
Currently, the legal rule of joint and several liability allows completely innocent victims of municipal negligence to collect their entire damages award from any defendant found liable. For example, a completely innocent victim is involved in a winter car accident due to an unknown hit-and-run driver’s negligence and the municipality’s negligent road maintenance. Here, the court grants the victim a damages award and attributes liability to the unknown hit-and-run driver and the municipality. The victim can choose to collect the entire damages awarded from the negligent municipality. The legal principle behind joint and several liability is that an innocent victim should be wholly compensated and not suffer due to a defendant’s inability to pay. If the victim’s injuries are severe enough, it may be that the only way the victim can be made whole is by being compensated by the municipality.
It is important that municipalities use their limited funds efficiently. But the solution to reducing municipal insurance premiums is not using legislation to strip victims of their rights; the solution is to reduce negligent municipal activity. Governments should not insulate themselves from responsibility when their actions hurt someone. It is important to remember that joint and several liability impacts a municipality only if was negligent. Our municipalities do not need convoluted protective legislation to control how much they pay in insurance premiums. Instead, our municipalities need to work towards their legal obligation of providing us with safe communities – in turn responding to the real reason for why they are paying higher insurance premiums.