Uneven bricks spark claims

City: Legal action ranges from potholes to icy streets.

Liability: The city fields about 25 claims per year regarding damage or injury.

Following the red brick road – or sidewalk actually – has led to an apparent problem for a couple of residents and an expense for the city.

Included in the city’s 2016 budget is funding for a rehab program for the brick strips along the edges of some city sidewalks and circling downtown trees.

“Red bricks downtown started to shift and heave,” stated Monica Dalziel, the city’s chief financial officer, during budget deliberations. “We had two claims this year. If we’re not doing something to fix that problem, we’re going to be sued.”

She also pointed to the importance of keeping people safe.

Rob Niewenhuizen, the city’s public works director, explained the bricks provide a service along the utility corridor.

Instead of having to pull up concrete to deal with electrical wiring, for instance, city workers can remove bricks more easily.

He said the city has a program to fix bricks, done in conjunction with Downtown Salmon Arm who does a walk through town. Observations and comments from business owners are provided to the city.

Niewenhuizen also noted the city has to be diligent about repairing problems.

Receiving claims for mishaps is not a new phenomenon for the city – or for many municipalities.

Erin Jackson, the city’s corporate officer, handles citizens’ reports of injuries or damage.

She estimates the city gets about 25 such claims per year.

“It could be flooding, a lawnmower could spit a rock – a variety of things people think the city is responsible for,” she explains.

Other reasons might include potholes, sewer back-ups, trips and falls over anything on city property, and “slipping on ice – that’s a big one.”

There are also freak incidents which are nobody’s fault, she points out.

Jackson said the city responds to every claim that comes in the door, as well as keeping the resident updated as time progresses.

“They all make a claim to us, asking for compensation. At which point we forward it on to the Municipal Insurance Association (MIA). They do a rigorous investigation and see if the city was negligent in any way.”

Often the claims are denied, Jackson says.

“On the whole the city is very responsive when we receive information from the public – a paver loose or a pothole… When somebody tells us something is going on, we respond. And that’s why I think we have a lot of success; we don’t just hear from the public that something’s wrong and ignore it.”

Carl Bannister, the city’s chief administrative officer, notes the MIA decides what happens with the claims.

“I’d say the vast majority of claims are dismissed, but some of them are pursued further into the courts and some are settled before they go to court. That’s the call of MIA.”

The city also deals with other types of legal claims that don’t go to the MIA, such as alleged breach of contract, procedural fairness and others.

“In general, I think the city has been very fortunate with our success of defending lawsuits over the years,” Bannister remarked.


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