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Province not Liable for Injuries Suffered on Unmaintained Wooden Bridge

Ketler v. Nova Scotia (Attorney General), 2016 NSCA 64

In May 2007, the Province of Nova Scotia implemented a new standard for timber bridges. Pursuant to the standard, new bridges must include a metal guardrail instead of a traditional wooden railing. The Province prepared a prioritized replacement list for existing bridges with wooden railings.

McPhee Brook Bridge in rural Hants County Nova Scotia was originally constructed in 1914. The Province renovated it in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The bridge was wooden and did not have a metal guardrail. The Province ranked McPhee Brook Bridge 28th on its replacement list. The Province was scheduled to upgrade the bridge in 2014.

In 2010, Mark Ketler was approaching the McPhee Brook Bridge in his GMC Jimmy when a deer darted onto the road. Mr. Ketler swerved and his car struck the bridge’s guardrail. The car broke through the guardrail, rolled over and ended up upside-down in the brook below. Mr. Ketler was injured in accident.

Mr. Ketler brought a lawsuit against the Province for damages. Mr. Ketler argued the Province failed its duty to take reasonable care in maintaining the public bridge. Evidence showed the bridge’s wooden rail contained rotten wood and insufficient connections to guard rail posts.

The Nova Scotia Supreme Court dismissed Mr. Ketler’s action. Justice Warner said the Province’s duty of care was to maintain the bridge barrier to the standard that applied during the 1970/1980s construction, not the 2007 standard. Justice Warner said that in 2010, McPhee Brook Bridge probably did not meet the 1970/1980 standard, however, Mr. Ketler did not show that a properly maintained timber barrier would have stopped his car from careening off the bridge.

Mr. Ketler appealed. The Nova Scotia Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal. Mr. Ketler failed to provide the Court with an accident reconstruction investigation showing that a properly maintained wooden barrier would have prevented Mr. Ketler’s injuries.

You can read Ketler v. Nova Scotia (Attorney General), 2016 NSCA 64, in its entirety here.

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