Legal System

Municipal Works: Who’s Responsible for Damages?


In Quebec, a municipality can be held responsible for damages caused while carrying out public works. However, if it hired a contractor to do the work, it’s the contractor who’s responsible.

Most importantly, you must act quickly to assert your rights!

A municipality has responsibilities

A municipality has rights and responsibilities, just like any other legal entity. Therefore, it can be held responsible and obliged to pay compensation (money) if it commits a fault that causes you damages.

Like a company, a municipality can be held responsible for the faults of its employees or representatives. For example, a municipality may have to compensate a person if its employees caused a flood in the person’s basement while carrying out public works.

A municipality is also responsible for things it owns, such as trees, buildings, and roads. If they cause damages, the municipality may have to pay compensation.

To learn more about this type of responsibility, consult our article Civil Liability: Receiving Compensation for Damages

If a contractor has done the work, they’re responsible

A municipality is generally not responsible for damages caused by a contractor who carries out municipal works. This is to protect municipalities from being held responsible for faults committed by contractors it hires.

A municipality will not be held responsible if all these conditions are met:

  • The municipality hired a contractor for construction, repair, or maintenance work.  
  • The damages were the fault of the contractor (not the municipality).
  • The damages occurred while the work was carried out.

For example, a municipality will not be responsible if a contractor it hired damages a piece of land owned by a resident, floods a resident’s basement, or destroys a resident’s hedges while doing road work.

Even if these three conditions are met, a municipality may still have to pay compensation if it acted with particularly severe negligence — but these situations are rare.

What to do if you suffer damages?

As a general rule, you must inform the municipality in writing within 15 days of the incident or within 15 days of first noticing the damages. This 15-day rule applies in Montreal, Quebec City, Gatineau and Sherbrooke, for example. However, for some municipalities, the deadline is 60 days. You could check with your municipality to see which deadline applies. You could lose your right to claim compensation if you send this notice too late.

Writing and sending a notice about damages is not complicated. You don’t have to use a special form for it to be valid. You just have to include all the necessary information. If you’re not sure whether the 15-day or 60-day deadline applies, don’t take a chance. Send the notice within 15 days, if possible.

Even if you think you may have missed the deadline, send your notice anyway. You will not have lost anything if it is too late, and it will protect your rights if the deadline has not yet passed.

Once a municipality has been informed of the situation, it can tell you whether your claim should be against the contractor. The municipality can also investigate the work of the contractor.

To learn about how to claim compensation, see our article: Claiming Compensation for Damages Caused by Municipal Public Works.