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Claims to the City

Claims to the City

About Filing a Claim With the City

The City of Ottawa receives approximately 2,000 claims per year from people that believe the City should compensate them for an injury or damage they have experienced that they believe is the City’s fault. Typical claims include requests for compensation for injuries from slipping on a sidewalk, foundation damage from City trees, damage to cars due to potholes, and accidents with City vehicles.

This document provides citizens with some basic information about how to file a claim with the City of Ottawa and answers some frequently asked questions. If you have more questions, please contact the City of Ottawa’s Claims Unit by phoning 311 and asking for the Claims Unit or emailing claims@ottawa.ca.

How to File a Claim

You can submit a claim by mail or by e-mail. Even if you first contact the Claims Unit by phone, you will be asked to put your claim in writing. Remember to include all of the information that the City will need to properly process and assess your claim.

Your claim e-mail or letter will need to include the following:

  • Information on how we can best contact you, including your name, home address, phone number and e-mail address;
  • Information about the incident that caused the property damage or the injury, with specific details about what happened, where and when;
  • A description of the incident, including contact information for any witnesses or anyone else with information that could help the City understand what happened;
  • Any documentation that supports your claim, including photos, drawings, etc.; and
  • Details of the damage or injury, if these are available. If you are making a claim for property damage, you should include any receipts for the property and at least two (2) estimates of the cost of repairs.

Correspondence may be submitted to our office as follows:

Mail:
City of Ottawa
Legal Services, Claims Unit
110 Laurier Avenue West, 3rd Floor
Ottawa, Ontario K1P 1J1

Email:
claims@ottawa.ca

Fax:
613-580-2667

Once you have submitted your claim, the Claims Unit will send you an acknowledgment. A thorough investigation of a relatively straight forward claim will generally require at least two weeks in order for the investigator to assemble the relevant evidence from the City staff involved in the matter. An investigation of a more complicated claim can take several weeks to conclude.

Things to Keep in Mind

While the City understands that individuals apply for a claim because they believe that the City bears at least some responsibility for the injury or damage received, it is important to remember that submitting a claim is a legal process. Each claim is investigated and evaluated based on the City’s legal responsibility and liability. Some things to keep in mind include:

  • Making a claim against the City is not the same as making a claim against your insurance. Where many insurance policies may provide compensation for full replacement cost of insured, damaged property, the City will provide compensation only for the present depreciated value of the property. For example, if it is found that the City is entirely liable for the loss of a fifteen (15) year old vehicle that is now worth only $5,000, the City will only pay $5,000 even if it now costs $20,000 to replace the vehicle with a new model.
  • In many cases, the City will be legally liable only if it has been “negligent”. Generally speaking, negligence involves doing something in a way that falls below what is reasonably expected of a person in that same situation. For example:
  • If the City is aware of a dangerous situation on its property and it does not take steps to fix it within a reasonable time, the City might be found negligent if someone is hurt.
  • The City might also be negligent if it built something that was not constructed according to the standards in effect at the time.
  • If someone submits a claim because their car was damaged when a branch from a City tree fell on the car, the City would only be liable and pay compensation if the City was negligent in how it maintained the tree. To be negligent, the City would typically need to have known that the branch was likely to fail and did nothing to minimize the possibility that it would cause damage to a person or property (e.g. routine inspections, trimming, etc.).
  • The City is not liable for damage or injury caused by private contractors providing City services. Please read the section on this topic below for more details.

Information about Common Claims

Flooding

Flooding claims usually result from a backup in either the storm or the sanitary sewer, or from a broken watermain. Municipalities do not build sewer systems that can handle every possible rainstorm because the cost would be prohibitively expensive and such a system might not work properly during typical storms. Engineers and designers have to pick some middle ground that offers protection to homeowners for the majority of rain events but which isn’t so expensive that we can’t afford to build it. The result is an industry standard for the design of drainage systems.

As long as the system is built in accordance with industry standards, the City is not negligent.

It is important for individuals submitting a claim for flooding damage to understand that the Ontario Government changed the Municipal Act in the 1990’s such that cities and towns are no longer liable for damage caused by the escape of water or sewage if they are not negligent. Therefore, a claimant has to show that the City was negligent, either in the design, construction or the maintenance of the sewer or watermain for the City to be responsible.

Even when industry standards change because of advances in technology, a better understanding of weather or even things like climate change, the law does not require the City to rebuild its older sewer systems to meet new standards because the cost of rebuilding an entire community’s infrastructure may be too high, or the changes might be impossible to put into place.

When the Claims Unit receives a flooding claim, it will look at why the flooding happened to determine whether it was due to a problem in the design or construction of the drainage system, whether the system was maintained according to industry norms, or whether the weather event was simply too much for the system to manage.

Potholes

Ottawa has a significant freeze/thaw cycle each winter and spring. This cycle, together with high volumes of traffic, creates holes in road surfaces. Potholes can damage a tire or a wheel. In some cases, suspension and/or steering systems can be affected.

The City receives hundreds of pothole claims every spring. Unlike many other types of maintenance, the Municipal Act, 2001 sets the rules that the City has to follow to avoid claims for such damage. These are called the Minimum Maintenance Standards for Municipal Highways (MMS) and can be found on the Provincial Government’s E-Laws website, at the following link:

Minimum Maintenance Standards for Municipal Highways

These Provincial government standards require the City to fix a pothole within a period that ranges between 4 days and 30 days, depending on the size of the pothole and whether it is on a paved or an unpaved road. It is important to note that the City’s obligation to fix a pothole is triggered only after the municipality becomes aware of the problem.

When the City receives a pothole claim, the Claims Unit will determine whether the Minimum Maintenance Standards for Municipal Highways were met. If the City met those standards, the City is not responsible.

Trees

The City owns more than 300,000 trees and accidents involving branches sometimes happen, particularly in high winds. When a claim is received, the Claims Unit will look at the history of the tree to see whether the City had prior notice of the condition of the tree and, if it did, what steps it took in response. Unless the City had some advance warning that one of its trees posed a hazard, such as a rotting limb or a cracked trunk, and it did not take appropriate steps to deal with the hazard, the City will not usually be legally responsible or liable for any damage. 

Another broad category of tree claims relates to damage to a home foundation by tree roots as discussed below.

Foundation Damage

Many neighbourhoods in the City of Ottawa are built on Leda clay. A home on sensitive clay soil (Leda clay) may be damaged when drying of the soil causes settling under and around the foundation. Trees can contribute to the drying out of the soil, though there are frequently other causes, such as unusually hot and dry weather.

The City of Ottawa’s Forestry Branch has established a special process for claims for foundation damage due to a City-owned tree. The “Four Phase Assessment Process” is designed to test for the presence of sensitive clay soil. If the home was built on Leda clay, the next phase is designed to determine whether the City’s tree is contributing to the problem. If the City’s tree is found to be one of a number of factors causing the problem, the City will offer compensation, but only to the extent of its responsibility. For example, if the property needs repairs costing $50,000 and the City’s tree is found to be 20% responsible for the damage, the City will offer compensation up to $10,000 of the total cost of repairs.

Claims Involving Private Contractors

The City of Ottawa provides many services with its own staff. However, sometimes private contractors are used for services like major construction projects, snow plowing and garbage collection.  If these private contractors cause damage to others while carrying out their work, the City’s agreements require the contractors to deal with these claims directly. 

If you believe that you have been injured or that your property has been damaged by a private contractor working for the City, you have two avenues to make a claim. You can make your claim directly to the contractor or you can send your claim to the Claims Unit.

If you file your claim through the City, the Claims Unit will forward the claim to that contractor, so that it can be investigated. The Claims Unit will let you know that the claim has been turned over to the contractor. The private contractor should be in touch with you in a few days to let you know that they have received the claim and to provide you with the name of a contact person. If you do not hear from the private contractor, please let the Claims Unit know and the City’s Claims Unit will help to identify the private contractor's contact person.

The private contractor will conduct an investigation and make a decision regarding your claim. If the contractor determines that it is legally responsible for your loss, it will resolve the claim directly with you.

If the private contractor determines that it is not legally liable for the damage or loss, your claim will likely be denied. If you disagree with the contractor’s decision, you can contact the City’s Claims Unit to help better understand the basis on which the claim might have been denied, although the City cannot intervene directly on your behalf. 

If Your Claim is Denied

On average, the City pays some compensation for around 25% of the claims that are submitted. For the other 75%, the claimant is advised that the City disagrees that it is liable.

The City will provide you with written reasons why your claim was denied.

If your claim is denied and you believe that the City is still responsible, you may choose to file a lawsuit against the City.

Contact Us

Mail:
City of Ottawa
Legal Services, Claims Unit
110 Laurier Avenue West, 3rd Floor
Ottawa, Ontario K1P 1J1

Email:
claims@ottawa.ca

Fax:
613-580-2667

If you have any questions, please contact our general claims line at 613-580-2655 or e-mail at claims@ottawa.ca.