Benjamin Franklin wrote that an investment in knowledge pays the best interest. This is particularly true in the context of slip-and-fall accidents because learning about one’s rights and responsibilities can ultimately safeguard your best interests. In this blog I examine the law, the duty of care, the liability of occupiers for slip-and-fall accidents which occur on private, commercial and municipal premises and lawsuits.
In Ontario, slip-and-fall accidents are governed by the Occupiers’ Liability Act. This Act establishes a duty of care on the part of an occupier to ensure the safety of all entrants to the occupier’s premises. Section 1 of the Act states that a person is considered an occupier if they are: in physical possession of the premises, responsible for and have control over the condition of the premises, responsible for and have control over the activities on the premises, or are in control over people who are allowed to enter the premises.
Depending on the circumstances of a slip-and-fall accident, an occupier may include an owner, property manager, superintendent, tenant, sub-tenant, work supervisor, an auctioneer conducting a sale on the vendor’s premises, a real estate agent selling or leasing the property, an independent contractor who performs building maintenance, construction, or repair work, an engineer responsible for site preparation, or even an adjacent property owner.
Occupier’s Duty of Care
Section 3(1) of the Occupiers’ Liability Act sets out an occupier’s duty of care and states that an occupier of premises owes a duty to take such care in all the circumstances to ensure that all visitors and their property are reasonably safe while on the premises. This means that an occupier, like those described above, must make their premises reasonably safe for visitors by taking reasonable care to protect those entrants from foreseeable danger.
Section 3(2) of the Occupiers’ Liability Act states that this duty applies whether the danger is caused by the condition of the premises or by an activity occurring on the premises. The Supreme Court of Canada has reinforced that the Occupiers’ Liability Act requires positive action on the part of occupiers to make their premises reasonably safe.
This “reasonable care” requirement is rooted in common sense. An occupier must take prudent steps to ensure the safety of visitors to the premises. However, the standard is not perfection and an occupier is not expected to remove every possible danger on the premises as that would be unreasonable.
Liability of Occupiers
In order to establish liability, or fault, on the part of an occupier, it is necessary to establish that they breached the duty of care prescribed by the Occupiers’ Liability Act. Some circumstances or conditions which may demonstrate such a breach include: snow and/or ice on sidewalks, paths, steps and other exterior walking surfaces, slipping or tripping hazards such as water, spilled industrial liquids, and even bodily fluids, and poorly lit areas or areas which have no lighting at all.
Commercial Property Occupiers
For commercial property occupiers, such as grocery stores and for parking lots, corporate policies must be implemented to reduce the risk of injury to entrants to the premises. Employees, as agents of the occupier, are responsible for ensuring that floors on the premises are clear of debris, tripping and slipping hazards. If the commercial property occupier fails to comply with a reasonable maintenance and inspection policy, then it will likely be held responsible for any injuries that occur as a result.
Slip-and-fall accidents which occur on municipal property are governed by the Municipal Act. Section 44(1) of the Municipal Act states that where a municipality has jurisdiction over a highway or bridge, it must keep that highway or bridge in a state of repair that is reasonable in the circumstances. Section 44(2) of the Municipal Act states that if a municipality fails to keep a highway or bridge in a reasonable state of repair and such failure causes a slip-and-fall accident, then the municipality is liable for the resulting damages.
A highway is defined by the Municipal Act as a bridge, trestle, viaduct, portion of a highway, road allowance, sidewalks, street, or lane. However, the Municipal Act states that where a slip-and-fall accident occurs on a municipal sidewalk, a municipality is not responsible for any personal injury resulting from snow or ice on the sidewalk unless the municipality has been “grossly negligent” in its duty to maintain the sidewalk in a reasonable state of repair. While this standard is applied on a case-by-case basis, it essentially means that in order to be found liable, a municipality must act unreasonably in the face of fairly apparent hazards.
If you have suffered a slip-and-fall, there are a number of parties who may be responsible for your accident: the owner of the property where the accident occurred, an inspection and maintenance contractor, property superintendent, supervisor or manager, landlord, and/or employees or agents of a commercial occupier who are tasked with inspection and maintenance. If you think you have a case, you should speak with a lawyer immediately to preserve any evidence. Also, there are also different notice periods depending on where you fall, for example on government or municipal property vs. residential property. These notice deadlines are as short as 10 days and complicated. You only have two years to sue. If you have a fall, call a lawyer immediately in order not to miss these deadlines.