About Filing a Claim With the City
Due to operational challenges resulting from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the state of emergency declared by the City of Ottawa on March 25, 2020, please note that the review and resolution of all claims may take up to six months or longer. We appreciate your patience in this regard.
If you believe that the City has been negligent in its maintenance of City facilities, roads, trees and sewers, which has caused bodily injury or damage to your property, you can file a claim against the City of Ottawa. 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.
All claims submitted to the City receive full assessment using consistent criteria and are considered on the basis of the presence of legal liability or a legislative or regulatory requirement. Please note that the Claims Unit only makes payment where the City of Ottawa is legally liable for the damage or injury caused.
For more information, please review the options below or contact our Claims Unit directly:
City of Ottawa
Legal Services, Claims Unit
110 Laurier Avenue West, Third Floor
Making a Claim against the City of Ottawa
The Legal Services Branch, Claims Unit handles all claims against the City. Before submitting a formal claim, it is important to keep in mind the following:
- Making a claim against the City is not the same as making a claim against your insurance. Making a claim through your insurance company means that you are taking advantage of your existing insurance coverage for your personal assets, via your insurance policy, whereas a claim against the City requires an investigation to determine whether or not the City is legally liable.
- If you have auto or property insurance, these should be the first avenues pursued in the event of a loss. Your existing insurance coverage may in fact be more extensive than any recovery that could be made from the City. If your insurer believes that the City is responsible, they may seek to recover damages against the City on your behalf.
- Making a claim against the City is a legal process and will take time as an investigation will be conducted by the Claims Unit to determine if the City was negligent, causing the damage or injury.
- Generally speaking, "negligence" involves the failure to meet the appropriate standard of care. For instance, 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 at that location. Similarly, the City might also be negligent if it built something that was not constructed according to the standards in effect at that time.
- Please note that the Claims Unit only makes payment where the City of Ottawa is legally liable for the damage or injury caused. Determination of liability is based on the presence of negligence on behalf of the City.
- For property damage claims, if the City is found to be negligent, the amount that you would receive in compensation is limited to current value and not replacement value and the City will not reimburse for improvements beyond the condition of the property just before the damage occurred.
- The investigation of your claim must be completed before the City will be in a position to consider any compensation with respect to repairs/costs. It is your decision if you choose to proceed with repairing damaged property prior to the outcome of your claim.
- The Claims Unit is committed to resolutions that are fair, reasonable, and in keeping with the City's legal obligations. Although you may not get the answer you were seeking, our staff will treat everyone with respect and professionalism throughout the process, and, will do their best to explain the City's position regarding each decision.
How to File a Claim
All claims must be submitted in writing via our online Claim Submission Web form or one of the other following channels:
City of Ottawa
Legal Services, Claims Unit
110 Laurier Avenue West, 3rd Floor
If submitting by email, fax or regular mail/courier, please ensure to include all of the following details, which are required to properly open and assess your claim:
- Your name, home address, phone number and email address;
- A detailed description of the incident that caused the property damage or injury, including the specific date, time and location;
- Contact information for any witnesses, City staff and/or other parties with information that could help the City understand what happened
- Any supporting documentation, including photos, drawings, receipts, etc.; and,
- If a City Contractor was involved please provide the contractor’s name (please also refer to our Claims Involving Private Contractors section)
Failure to provide any of the information listed above will delay the processing of your claim.
Once you have submitted your claim, the Claims Unit will send you an acknowledgment within 10 business days. The length of time to investigate will depend upon the complexity and severity of the claim as well as the volume of claims received at certain peak seasons. A relatively straight forward claim often requires up to 4 weeks in order for staff to sufficiently investigate the matter. A more complicated claim can take several months to conclude.
Upon completion of our investigation, you will be notified of our assessment in writing. If your claim is denied, the Claims Unit will outline the results of the investigation and provide you with the information that supports the City's denial. If you still wish to pursue your claim after being denied compensation, your next option is to file a lawsuit against the City.
The Claims Investigation Process
All claims should be filed with the City as soon as possible following an incident in order to initiate an investigation. There are cases that require you to place the City on notice within 10 days of the incident. To ensure that your claim does not fall outside of the notice period, in all circumstances, please forward it to the City within 10 days.
Claims received by the City are logged and handled in the order in which they are received.
The Claims Unit will consider all information put forward in support of your claim and review in relation to any relevant legislation, regulations and documentation from operational departments to determine if the City of Ottawa had any legal liability in the matter. The possible outcomes could include:
- The referral of the claim to another responsible party (i.e. private contractors);
- The denial of the claim if there is no evidence of City negligence; or,
- The settlement of the claim in whole or part.
While many claimants may feel that the City is morally responsible for their loss, it is the question of legal liability that ultimately determines whether a claim is paid. The reliance on legal liability as the basis for the evaluation of claims is in keeping with the provisions of the City's insurance policies and reflects the same considerations that would inform a legal assessment in the court system. It serves to ensure that, while claimants may feel that the City is morally responsible for their loss, all claims are considered fairly and in accordance with the same legal criteria.
Common Types of Claims
Potholes are a result of Ottawa’s significant freeze/thaw weather cycles that deteriorate our road surfaces. During the freeze/thaw, water seeps into the crevices of the road. Fluctuations in temperature, vibrations and traffic volumes all create stress on the asphalt road surface, which can result in potholes.
In cases of road damage, including potholes, the Municipal Act, 2001 sets out 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 ELaws 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. Ottawa receives hundreds of pothole claims each season, the majority of which are denied as the City’s maintenance standards regularly meet or exceed those that are prescribed by the MMS.
It is worth noting the Municipal Act, 2001, recognizes that the standard of care required of municipalities is one of reasonableness and not perfection. Applying this legal consideration means that the City is rarely legally liable for damage caused by potholes. However, all claims receive a fulsome, independent review to ensure that proper consideration is provided for assessing the City’s liability in relation to any and all damages claimed.
Please note, that if you have auto or property insurance, these should be the first avenues pursued in the event of a loss. Your existing insurance coverage may in fact be more extensive than any recovery that could be made from the City.
The City identifies potholes through regular patrols and as reported by the public to 311. If you see a pothole on a city street, call 311 or report it online.
Flooding (Sewer Backups)
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.
Please visit the City’s webpage about sewer backups and flooding for more information.
Tree Related Claims
The City owns more than 300,000 trees and accidents involving branches sometimes happen, particularly in high winds. When making a claim against the City for property damage related to City trees, there are several factors that are considered in determining the City's responsibility. Some of these factors include:
- The history of the tree, including whether there was any visible evidence of decay prior to the incident
- Whether the City had prior notice of the condition of the tree
- If the City was aware of the condition of the tree, whether the City's inspection and maintenance activities were reasonable
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. For example, if someone submits a claim because their car was damaged when a City tree branch fell on their car, the City would only be liable and pay compensation if the City was negligent in how it maintained the tree.
The mere fact that a City tree caused damage does not warrant automatic compensation from the City. Furthermore, if the tree is not found on municipal property, the City will not be found liable. Residents can submit a Service Request if they need to determine ownership of a tree or request city tree maintenance.
Another broad category of tree claims relates to damage to a home foundation by tree roots, as discussed further below.
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 City Vehicles
In Ontario, when two vehicles are involved in an accident and regardless of fault, the drivers/owners of those vehicles must direct themselves first to their own vehicle insurance providers. The same applies for incidents involving third-party and City vehicles. This model is referred to as ‘no-fault’ insurance, and means that each vehicle operator deals with their own insurer directly for reimbursement and coverage for any property damage costs, and/or expenses resulting from injury.
If your vehicle is damaged as a result of an accident with a City vehicle, all physical damage must be reported to and paid by your own automobile insurance, by law. Should you require more information and/or wish to pursue a formal claim, you may do so by following the steps set out on this webpage.
If you need to repair your vehicle, or arrange a rental vehicle, you must contact your own automobile insurance provider for assistance in this regard. The Claims Unit must complete an investigation to determine if the City is responsible for the damage before approving payment for any costs relating to vehicle repairs, etc.
Claims Involving Private Contractors
The City of Ottawa provides many services with its own staff. However, the City also frequently enters into contracts with independent companies (“contractors”) for the provision of services on the City’s behalf. These can include services like major construction projects, road work, snow plowing and garbage removal. The City’s agreements with these contractors contain a requirement that the contractor respond directly and promptly to any claims for damage, loss or injury caused to the public during the execution of their work.
Should a claim be received by the City whereby it is determined that a contractor had control over the accident location at the time of the loss/damage, the Claims Unit will notify the claimant in writing that a contractor is responsible for their claim, and will provide the name and contact information of the contractor involved to the claimant so that they may pursue their claim directly with the responsible contractor. Should the contractor deny a claim for damage, loss or injury, the City cannot intervene directly on behalf of a Claimant.
If Your Claim is Denied
On average, the City pays some compensation for approximately 25% of claims that are submitted. For the remaining claims, our investigation determines that the City is not legally liable. When these claims are denied, the Claims Unit provides written justification for this determination and explains the rationale behind the decision.
Notwithstanding the Claims Unit’s efforts, some claimants will disagree with the assessment of the extent of the City’s legal responsibility for their losses. In such cases, claimants are free to commence formal proceedings before the courts in an effort to obtain compensation.
Pursuant to the requirements under the Delegation of Authority Bylaw and the principles of the Delegation of Powers Policy and the Accountability and Transparency Policy, the Innovative Client Services Department provides a summary of all claim settlements as part of its semi-annual Comprehensive Legal Services Report to Committee and Council (copies of which can sourced via eAgenda).