I rode into a pothole on a city street. I ended up with two broken arms. Can I sue the city?

I was out for a bike ride when a pothole caught my front wheel and I went flying over the handlebars. I’ve already missed six weeks of work and my bike needs major repairs.

Steven

Steven

Vancouver, BC

If a municipality doesn’t take reasonable steps to ensure its roadways are safe for people to use, it can be liable when someone’s injured in a bike accident.

A municipality isn’t automatically responsible, though. To get damages, you have to prove that the municipality breached its duty of care and was negligent. Under the law, you need to prove all of the following:

  • the road was in an unsafe condition

  • the municipality did not make reasonable efforts to keep the road safe for users (including following their policies to fix any problems), and

  • you were injured because of the municipality’s negligence.

You also have to prove that your bike was damaged as a result of the accident.

In a claim against a municipality, an important piece will be the municipality's own policies to maintain, inspect, and repair city property. Say a municipality has a reasonable policy in place but doesn’t follow it. Or perhaps they follow it, but carry out a bad repair job. Your case against the municipality may succeed in those situations. 

But there are situations where you may not succeed — for either legal or political reasons. For example, a municipality might choose not to have a policy requiring regular inspection of its roads. That's a political issue, not a legal one. The policy makers might decide regular inspections are too great a drain on the municipality's resources. In such a case, no responsibility would attach to the municipality for failing to carry out inspections.

Generally, municipalities aren’t held to a standard of perfection, only reasonableness. This is because municipalities can’t be in all places at all times when it comes to road repair and maintenance. It's easier to get compensation from a municipality for negligence when it does something badly rather than when it doesn’t do something at all. 

Note that if you want to sue the city for bike repair costs and damages, you need to act fast. You must notify the appropriate municipality in writing within two months of the date of your fall. You need to start an action for negligence within two years. Where a city’s maintenance policies are involved, the limitation period is six months. Speaking with a lawyer as soon as possible can help you avoid missing a limitation period.

David W. Hay, KC

David W. Hay, KC

Richards Buell Sutton
  • This information applies to British Columbia, Canada
  • Reviewed for legal accuracy in March 2022

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