$55,000 Non-Pecuniary Damages Assessment for Bimalleolar Ankle Fracture


Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, addressing the issues of fault and value of injuries sustained in a 2005 slip and fall accident in Vancouver, BC.
In today’s case (Druet v. Sandman Hotels, Inns & Suites Ltd.,) the Plaintiff was visiting Vancouver, BC and was staying at a hotel operated by the Defendant company.  As she entered the hotel she slipped on the floor and fractured her ankle.  The injury requires surgical correction.
The Court found that both parties were equally at fault for the incident.  The Defendants were found at fault for having unreasonably slippery tiles in their lobby knowing how often patrons tracked water into the lobby.  The Plaintiff was found partly at fault for failing to take reasonable care for her own safety.  Paragraphs 14-62 are worth reviewing for the Court’s discussion of fault.
In valuing the Plaintiff’s non-pecuniary damages (money for pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life) at $55,000 Mr. Justice Savage made the following findings with respect to the severity of the Plaintiff’s injury:

[11]        Druet suffered a bimalleolar ankle fracture.  She had open reduction surgery.  The break was fixed with metal screws.  The metal screws were removed by a further operation.  She had ongoing complaints of stiffness and lack of range of motion.  She had a lack of dorsiflexion and could not invert or evert her right hindfoot very well.  In June 2008 she had scar tissue surgically debrided and a gastrocnemius recession was performed.

[12]        By 2009 Druet’s condition was stabilized, but she had stiffness and arthrofibrosis of her right ankle, related to her bimalleolar ankle fracture.  She is not considered at high risk for future injuries, provided she stays within reasonable restrictions.

[13]        She walks with a slight limp and can no longer run as she once did, but can walk significant distances, which she does with walking partners.  She has some concerns about the work she does as a nurse, but is still able to perform the work required to the satisfaction of her current employer…

[66]        I have described the injuries above.  As a result of those injuries the plaintiff had three surgeries, although two were in succession.  She had implantation of a plate, a rod and surgical screws in March 2005 which were removed in September 2005.  Her ankle was debrided in June 2008.

[67]        Druet missed a total of three months of work as a licenced practical nurse arising from the injuries and surgeries.  She walked with crutches for a short time after the Accident while recuperating.  She had limited physiotherapy in 2005 but not since.  She wears orthotics.

[68]        Druet has substantially resumed her previous activities, except running.  She now walks two miles a day, five days a week.  She did substantial walking during a vacation to Europe in 2006 and a holiday in New York in 2008.  She can walk five kilometres.  She participates in 5K walks and completes them 10 to 15 minutes slower than when she ran. ..

In my opinion non-pecuniary damages fall between the two parties’ positions.  I award $55,000 under this head.

$90,000 Non-Pecuniary Damages for Subcapital Hip Fracture Requiring Replacement


Reasons for judgement were released last week by the BC Supreme Court, Vernon Registry, awarding damages for injuries sustained in a trip and fall incident.
In last week’s case (Etson v. Loblaw Companies Limited) the 76 year old plaintiff tripped and fell over a wooden pallet in an aisle while shopping at the Real Canadian Superstore.  The Court found that both the Plaintiff and Defendant were equally at fault for the incident.
The Plaintiff sustained a subcapital fracture to her right hip.  Initially this was treated with internal fixation although the Plaintiff’s pain continued.  She eventually required a total hip replacement following which she recovered reasonably well.  Madam Justice Fisher valued the Plaintiff’s non-pecuniary damages at $90,000 and in arriving at this figure the Court provided the following reasons:

[61]        Ms. Etson was quite reserved in her descriptions of the pain she experienced as a result of her injuries but there is no question that she suffered a tremendous amount of pain.  The initial injury was obviously very painful and it took Ms. Etson about four months to begin to resume her mobility sufficiently to be able to drive and do things for herself.  She suffered a debilitating set-back in August 2009 when the hardware failed and the femoral head in her hip collapsed.  Her mobility deteriorated and she was again unable to do things for herself.  She suffered tremendous and increasing physical pain for about eight months.  She underwent two additional surgeries.  The first, in January 2010, did not alleviate her pain or improve her mobility.  She did not experience any relief from the pain until April 2010 when she had the total hip replacement surgery.

[62]        Ms. Etson had been a very independent and active woman.  She was involved in painting and the arts and was very active in a local painting club and other community events.  After the accident, she was unable to continue any of this involvement and she had considerable difficulty maintaining her independence.  She had to rely on her sister and Ms. Erikson to help her with meals and other things.  She developed ways to get around her house and she managed as best as she could.  However, it is apparent that the severe limitations on her ability to participate in activities outside her home for close to a year and a half left her feeling very isolated.  Moreover, the accident occurred at a very difficult time in Ms. Etson’s life, when her daughter was in the later stages of a terminal illness.  While she said little about this, it was clear to me that her injuries made it practically impossible for her to visit her daughter before her death in April 2009.  Since the hip replacement surgery in April 2010, Ms. Etson’s condition has improved significantly but she has not yet found the spirit to return to her pre-accident activities and she is still not socially active.  I am satisfied that the injury is a factor here, but I also find that some of this lack of spirit is attributed to other factors, such as the death of her daughter.

[63]        Clearly, Ms. Etson’s injuries have had a profound effect of her life.  She has recovered reasonably well since April 2010 but she still has residual problems.  She is limited in how far she can walk, she still uses a cane when walking for more than two or three blocks and she has a bit of a limp. She is able to live independently now but she is still not able to do heavier physical activities such as gardening or snow removal. I do not accept Dr. Moreau’s comment that “there would have been some residual symptoms during her recovery from the hip replacement of about 3 months”.  This statement is not consistent with his own observations of her condition on September 27, 2010, and is not consistent with Ms. Etson’s evidence, which I do accept.  Her residual symptoms have lasted longer than that and while her prognosis is not entirely clear, it is likely that she will be able to resume most, if not all, of her pre-accident activities by the spring.

[64]        I do accept Dr. Moreau’s opinion that Ms. Etson will not require any further treatment or specific rehabilitation and that it is very unlikely that she will have any further problems or disabilities because of the hip injury…

[70] In this case, the injuries had a profound effect on Ms. Etson’s life.  Her active and independent life style, which was important to her, was seriously compromised for over a year and a half.  During that time she experienced significant pain and had to undergo three surgeries.  She is now able to resume most of her former activities but she still has some residual effects.  Given my findings, I assess non-pecuniary damages at $90,000.

Landlord Liable for Guest's Fall From Balcony

(UPDATE November 18, 2011The case discussed below was upheld in reasons for judgement released today by the BC Court of Appeal.  These can be accessed here)

Reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court, Campbell River Registry, discussing the duties of landlords to take reasonable steps to make sure buildings they own are safe for tenants and guests.
In today’s case (Jack v. Tekavec) the Defendant owned an apartment in Gold River, BC.  He rented this out to a third party who invited the Plaintiff over.  While visiting the Plaintiff “leaned against a balcony railing which gave way.   (He) plummetted three stories to the ground and was badly injured“. The Plaintiff sued the building owner arguing he was careless for failing to keep the balcony railing in good repair.  Mr. Justice Savage agreed.  In finding the Defendant at fault for the Plaintiff’s injuries the Court stated as follows:

[38]         The evidence establishes that the defendant, as owner and operator of the apartment block, is a landlord pursuant to s. 1 of the RTA.  I find that the defendant is responsible for the repair and maintenance of the deck and owes a duty of care pursuant to s. 6 of the Act to the guests of his tenants including Jack.

[39]         That duty of care includes, in my opinion, a duty to inspect.  The duty to inspect is part of the duty of the landlord to take reasonable care in carrying out the responsibility for the repair of premises under the Act. ..

[44]         In this case the defendant knew of a problem with the balcony railing before the tenancy commenced.  The tenants requested that he repair the balcony railing but he chose not to do so.  The defendant was also aware that the tenant, through Billy, took it upon herself to effect a repair when he did not respond to the requests.  The defendant saw that the work done by the tenant was not done properly.

[45]         The defendant knew that Billy, who did the work, was not skilled.  Although this repair was his responsibility, as the landlord responsible for maintenance, and he knew the work was done wrongly, he chose not to fix it.  He was well aware of the danger of improper work on the balcony railing.

[46]         In my opinion Tekavec owed a duty of care to Mark and to Mark’s guests including Jack.  The standard of care required that he respond to requests of tenants to inspect the tenanted premises regarding the safety problems they raised.  The standard of care also required that, if a tenant did work on a balcony railing that he saw was wrongly done, that he inspect and repair or cause to have repaired the balcony railing himself.

[47]         By choosing inaction he breached the standard of care of a reasonable landlord responsible for such maintenance.  His breach of the standard of care was a direct cause of the accident and Jack’s injuries.

[48]         In the result, I find Tekavec liable to Jack for damages.

The Plaintiff’s damages included an award of $100,000 for non-pecuniary loss.  In arriving at this figure the Court noted the extent and severity of the injuries which were summarized as follows:

[15] Briefly, Jack’s multiple injuries included a broken pelvis, fractured ribs, fractured vertebrae, and internal injuries resulting in hernias.  While in hospital he developed pneumonia requiring a tracheotomy.  His pelvis fracture required a metal plate and screws.  He pelvis fracture healed but he has lost 2” in height.  He now weighs less than 200 lbs and walks with a slight limp.  After six months he returned to work but is now unable to do heavy lifting.  ..

[63]         I have earlier briefly described Jack’s injuries (paras. 13, 14, and 15).  I will not repeat that description here.  His diagnosis was as follows:

(a)        Vertically instable fracture of left side of pelvis involving fractures of the sacrum and symphyseal disruption;

(b)        Stable disruption of the right SI joint; bilateral transverse process fractures of L4 and 5 vertebra; left transverse process fractures of the Li and L2 vertebra;

(c)        Cecal volvulus resulting in right hemicolectomy; facial fractures not requiring intervention;

(d)        Post trauma aspiration pneumonia with respiratory compromise requiring tracheostomy;

(e)        Fracture of left 9th and 10th rib;

(f)         Post operative problems included mild infection of lower part of the abdominal incision; incisional hernia requiring surgery; mild malunion of let hemi pelvis resulting in 1 to 1.5 centimeter shortening of left leg; degenerative changes at the lumbar spine involving L4-5 and 12-S1 levels.

(g)        Pelvic x-rays revealed slight malunion with the left hemi-pelvis being approximately 1 to 1.5 centimeters higher than the right; posterior screw is slightly bent in keeping with this shift in position; hip joints are normal on x-ray; lumbar spine x-rays show degenerative changes at L4-5 level and L5-S1 level. …

[70] In my view, an appropriate award in these circumstances for past and future pain and suffering, loss of amenities and other non-pecuniary losses is $100,000.

Gas Station Found Liable for Slip and Fall on Ice; $40,000 Non-Pecs for Dislocated Kneecap

Reasons for judgement were released this week dealing with fault and damages arising from a slip and fall incident at a North Vancouver gas station.
In this week’s case (Foley v. Imperial Oil Limited) the Plaintiff, an insurance adjuster for ICBC, slipped and fell on ice located near a car wash at an Esso Station in North Vancouver.   He suffered various injuries, the most serious being a dislocated knee.  He claimed the Defendants were liable for his injuries and sued for damages.  The Defendants disagreed arguing that they took reasonable care to keep the area clear of ice.
Mr. Justice MacKenzie agreed with the Plaintiff and found the Defendant responsible for the incident.  The evidence showed that when cars left the car wash water would drip down and sometimes freeze causing ice.  The Court found that the Defendant did not take adequate steps to warn of this known hazard.  In finding the gas station at fault the Court reasoned as follows:

[69] The defendants maintained no regular patrol for ice, but left the frequency of patrol for ice to the employees. Mr. Morrow testified that when he did patrol, he occasionally found ice, and then he would apply fresh salt. So the presence of ice would move him to reapply salt. This indicates either that he was not salting enough, or the defendants were not sufficiently addressing the problem. Both Mr. Morrow and Mr. Christian knew that dripping water from cars would wash the salt away.

[70] In short, the washing away of salt by the water dripping from cars leaving the car wash bay, and then freezing, constituted an unusual hazard of which the defendants were aware, but the plaintiff was not. Mr. Morrow knew the ice was hard to see, particularly if it was clear, and covered by water dripping from cars. He saw the ice on which the plaintiff slipped and it was covered by water. Therefore, it was hard to see.

[71] The defendants did nothing to warn users of the car wash about the risk of ice. They could easily have put out the orange warning cones that conventionally alert people to risk, or posted readily visible signs warning of the risk of ice. The expense would have been minimal. They could also have improved the drainage to avoid the washing away of the salt, or closed the car wash, as they had done on a couple of occasions before when it was cold enough for ice to form at the known area of risk. The patrol for ice, and salting could have been more frequent.

[72] In MacLeod v. Yong, [1997] B.C.J. No. 2108 (S.C.) at para. 8, Mr. Justice Burnyeat listed a series of factors that are relevant in considering whether an occupier has fulfilled the duty imposed by s. 3 of the Occupiers Liability Act. These factors include “whether an unusual danger was present, whether a warning had been provided to the plaintiff, the ease or difficulty and the expense with which the unusual danger could have been remedied, and any prior record of safe usage of the premises by others or by the plaintiff.”

[73] In considering whether the defendants have breached their duty to take reasonable care to ensure the plaintiff would be reasonably safe on the premises, I must consider all the circumstances of the case, including: the slip and fall was reasonably foreseeable and the defendants were clearly aware of it; the efforts made by the defendants depended on the judgment of employees who were prone to human error and who were occupied with other duties; and it would have been easy and inexpensive for the defendants to put up a warning sign, or orange cones at the location they knew was particularly hazardous.

The Court went on to award the Plaintiff $40,000 for his injuries which included a dislocated knee cap.  In reaching this award Mr. Justice MacKenzie provided the following reasons:

[126]     The plaintiff’s most serious injury in the slip and fall was his dislocated right patella (kneecap). He also had a minor scrape on his head and strained wrists and abrasions that were bandaged at the hospital. He took nine days off work as the combined result of his knee and wrist injuries.

[127]     The dislocated kneecap caused the plaintiff excruciating pain. There was profuse swelling and a very large bruise. It was swollen and red for a few weeks or a month or more after the fall.

[128]     The plaintiff initially required crutches because he could not bear his weight. He also used a brace afterward, and tapered off his use of both the crutches and brace. The evidence as to how long he used both varies somewhat, but is simply a matter of inaccurate recording or memory, and not the plaintiff’s dishonesty.

[129]     The wrist pain lasted a month or two, and he had a very stiff neck with pain for a week or two…

[135] The knee pain, while gradually abating, had essentially plateaued by the spring of 2007. It was getting stronger and better, but he still felt pain and instability in the right knee in the spring of 2007. He saw his doctor in the spring and summer of 2007 and the doctor recommended he see a specialist, Dr. Forsyth, at the McGavin Clinic at UBC…

[140] In the summer of 2008, the plaintiff’s symptoms improved again and he noticed fewer symptoms. The pain ranged from nothing to 20 out of 100, or quite modest discomfort. However, knee stamina for walking and standing had not improved. Sitting for prolonged periods made his knee ache. He also noticed increased joint sounds in his knee, especially when climbing stairs. The plaintiff was forthright in admitting that he had some such sounds in both knees before the slip and fall, but after it, he noticed increased joint sounds in his right knee which he still notices…

[168]     The damages awarded in each case are specific to the particular facts. In this case, the plaintiff has suffered, and continues to suffer chronic pain and loss of enjoyment of life. His condition is likely to remain stable, although there is a risk that he may develop post-traumatic arthritis in the future, which could have further negative impact on his daily activities.

[169]     Based on my findings and upon reviewing the cases, I find an award of non-pecuniary damages of $40,000 is appropriate.

Humerus Fracture Non-Pecuniary Damages Assessed at $110,000

Reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court, Kamloops Registry, assessing damages for a comminuted fracture involving the left humerus (shoulder injury).
(Illustration provided courtesy of Artery Studios Ltd.)
Today’s case (Legault v. Brock Shopping Centre Ltd.) involved a slip and fall injury in 2005 in Kamloops, BC.  The Plaintiff was walking towards a business known as “Penny Pinchers” in Kamloops BC.  As he approached the shopping centre his foot slipped on ice and he stumbled forward falling “into the store front window“.  He suffered various injuries, the most serious of which was a fractured shoulder.
The Plaintiff was found 50% at fault for his own injuries for “not observing the ground conditions beneath his feet as he approached the sidewalk“.  The Defendant owner was also found 50% at fault for not clearing the ice with the Court finding that “the Defendant owner failed to respond to two calls from the tenant to address the condition of the parking lot.  Responding to one of these calls would likely have appraised the owner of the melting and freezing conditions that also affected the sidewalk margin area“.
The Plaintiff’s orthopaedic surgeon gave the following evidence with respect to the severity of the injury:
Mr. Legault slipped and fell through a plate glass window at a shopping mall. He sustained a number of small lacerations to his upper extremities and his lip which were sutured in the emergency department. The main impact occurred on his left shoulder and he was diagnosed with a proximal humerus fracture…Radiographs and CT scan performed December 6, 2005, revealed a comminuted intraarticular fracture of the proximal humerus with slight superior and posterior displacement of the greater tuberosity….
Mr. Legault has developed post traumatic arthritis of his left shoulder most probably secondary to a fracture sustained December 6, 2005. Although the symptoms of pain and stiffness due to arthritis may plateau, it is possible that he may experience progressive symptoms in the shoulder as time passes. As arthritis is an irreversible condition, Mr. Legault has a permanent impairment. He is likely to experience increased symptoms with repetitive activity, overhead activity, and activities which load the shoulder joint including use of vibratory tools or machinery, or heavy lifting. Surgical options for shoulder arthritis include arthrpacopy and debridement or hemi or total arthroplasty. The results of these procedures for post traumatic arthritis (as compared to degenerative osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis, for example) are less favorable. In this particular patient, his complication rate would be significantly increased due to his size and longstanding diabetes.
The Plaintiff’s total damages were assessed at $354,311 but this award was cut in half to account for the plaintiff’s contributory negligence.  In assessing non-pecuniary damages of $110,000 for the Plaintiff’s shoulder injury the Court found as follows:

I am satisfied that he has suffered an injury that has resulted in a permanent partial disability and will permanently affect his enjoyment of life on a daily basis, causing him difficulty with self care hygiene, dressing, moving up and down stairs, marital intimacy, home maintenance tasks, and driving. The physical injury has also made it more difficult to manage his obesity and other health issues related to fitness. His wife testified that she feels as if she has lost her husband entirely.  He was formerly able to lift and carry heavy automobile components and use heavy power tools in the course of working on vintage cars, which was his main interest in life; but he is unable to do that and has lost much of his zest for life.

[51] The plaintiff has referred me to cases where non-pecuniary awards in the range of $125,000 to $150,000 were made and the defendant relies on cases in the range of $70,000 to $75,000. I assess Mr. Legault’s loss under this head of damages at $110,000, which is subject, of course to the 50/50 apportionment of liability, as will be the case with the awards under the remaining heads of damage.

Produce Vendor Found Liable For Slip and Fall Injury Involving Dropped Grape


Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, finding a produce vendor liable for injuries sustained when a shopper slipped and fell on a dropped grape.
In today’s case (Davis v. Kin’s Farm Market) the 75 year Plaintiff was shopping in Lynn Valley Mall in North Vancouver.  As he walked “past the fruit and vegetable display tables located outside of Kin’s Market, he slipped and fell on a green grape“.
The grape was just outside of Kin’s Market in an area that was “encroaching somewhat into the marbled tiles forming the mall pedestrian corridor“.   The Plaintiff sued the owner of the Mall and the produce store.
The Defendants argued that the Plaintiff was at fault for his injuries and that they were not responsible because they had a reasonable system to deal with hazards on the floor.  However, this was contradicted by a witness who gave evidence that “several hours after the ambulance took (the Plaintiff) away”  there were “more grapes on the marble tiles immediately outside the store”  and that after bringing these grapes to the attention to the employee in charge of Kin’s Market “this employee took no steps to clean up the grapes“.
Madam Justice Bruce went on to find both Defendants liable for the Plaintiff’s injuries.  Specifically the Court reasoned as follows:

[39] In addition to having no reasonable system of inspection and maintenance in place to address spills from the bins and display tables outside the store, I find that the employees were not complying with the standards set by their employer on the day of the accident. Ms. Janda’s evidence tends to show that the employees of Kin’s Market were lax in regard to the cleanliness of the areas surrounding the bins. While evidence of a failure to comply with the cleaning policies well prior to the date of the accident cannot be used to infer such a failure on the date of the accident, in this case there is evidence that just hours after Mr. Davis’ fall there were more grapes on the marble tiles adjacent to the bins displayed by Kin’s Market. This evidence suggests that the employees of Kin’s Market had rather poor powers of observation. Moreover, the fact that on two occasions on June 5, 2005, employees of Kin’s Market took no steps to clean up fallen grapes after the spills were brought to their attention strongly suggests that they took no responsibility for any produce that landed beyond the brick tiles.

[40] Lastly, Kin’s Market argues that even if it failed to meet the standard of care owed as an occupier, the fact that the Owner met this standard removes any responsibility they may have for the accident. I am unable to accept this argument. Where there are two occupiers of premises, each of them owes a duty of care to persons invited to enter the premises. The fact that the Owner may rebut a prima facie breach of the Act does not obviate the necessity for Kin’s Market to also satisfy the two pronged test articulated by the Court of Appeal inAtkins. Permitting grapes to remain on the floor as a hazard is negligent absent proof that a reasonable system of maintenance and inspection was in place and being followed on the day of the accident. Kin’s Market has failed to satisfy this onus and it is irrelevant whether the Owner has led evidence that shows it met the required standard of care.

The Court went on to find that the Plaintiff was not at fault for falling reasoning as follows:

[60] Kin’s Market argues that Mr. Davis had an obligation to keep a proper look out for his own safety and to be aware of his surroundings: Gervais v. Do, 2000 BCSC 1271, [2000] B.C.J. No. 1732. Kin’s Market points to Mr. Davis’ admission that his attention was not directed to where he was walking before he fell; rather, he was looking toward the Shoppers Drug Mart. He was familiar with the mall and could have avoided the fall had he been paying attention to the floor where he was walking…

[62] In my view, it is not reasonable to expect Mr. Davis to be staring at his feet as he walked through the mall towards the Shoppers Drug Mart. Had he positioned his head in a downward direction to detect possible hazards on the floor, Mr. Davis may have stepped over the grapes in his path; however, he may also have run into another mall patron possibly causing damage to himself and the other person. It is also understandable that Mr. Davis would not be cognizant of the risks associated with walking in the common area of the mall adjacent to Kin’s Market, particularly as he was three to four feet from the display tables. He was not inside the store where he may have been alerted to the possibility of produce that had fallen to the floor. Lastly, I find Mr. Davis’ circumstances are similar to that found by the Court of Appeal in Coulson. The tenants in the mall design their displays to attract customers’ eyes. They do not encourage patrons to keep their eyes on the floor ahead of their feet. As Bauman J. (as he then was) said in Dufty v. Great Pacific Industries Inc., 2000 BCSC 1474, [2000] B.C.J. No. 1988 at para. 44:

[44]      As to the issue of contributory negligence, it has been said many times, most recently by Justice Burnyeat in Coleman v. Yen Hoy Ent. et al, 2000 BCSC 276 [In Chambers], that while there is a duty on the plaintiff to be aware of her surroundings, it is not the case that she is required to “glue her eyes to the ground.”

Be Nice, Clear Your Ice…Fault for Slip and Fall Accidents


When I was growing up in Toronto I remember public service commercials often being played in the wintertime with the slogan “Be Nice, Clear Your Ice“.  Due to the temperate climate of Victoria, BC I have not heard a similar public service announcement for years.  That being said, regardless of where in Canada you live if you are responsible for a roadway/driveway/sidewalk/parking-lot that is covered in ice/snow reasonable steps should be taken to remove it.  Not only is removing it from your property the sensible thing to do, failing to do so can lead to a successful lawsuit and reasons for judgement were released by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, demonstrating this.
In today’s case (O’Leary v. Rupert) the Plaintiff rented a basement suite in the Defendants home.  When returning from work one day the Plaintiff parked her car in the driveway and attempted to walk up the driveway to the stairs of her basement suite.  It was dark outside and none of the lights were on.  Before reaching the stairs the Plaintiff slipped and fell.   The Plaintiff sued for damages and succeeded.  In finding the Defendants liable Mr. Justice Voith found that they did not take reasonable steps to keep the driveway clear of hazards.  Specifically the Court summarized and applied the law as follows:

[38] The obligation of the Ruperts under the Tenancy Agreement was to “maintain the residential property in a reasonable state of …. decoration and repair.” Conversely, the obligation of Ms. O’Leary under s. 10 of the Tenancy Agreement was to “maintain reasonable health, cleanliness and sanitary standards.” In saying this, I recognize that as a matter of practice Mrs. O’Leary swept and shovelled the stairs and pathway leading to her suite.

[39] Second, as I have said, it is common ground that the Ruperts maintained and shovelled the whole of their driveway without ever suggesting to Mrs. O’Leary that this obligation properly fell to her. Liability may be imposed on a party who has voluntarily undertaken to do something they were not otherwise obligated to do: see Goodwin v. Goodwin, 2007 BCCA 81, 64 B.C.L.R. (4th) 280, at para. 26. Where that voluntary task is performed negligently and causes foreseeable harm to a plaintiff, liability may arise. Once the Ruperts undertook to maintain and shovel the whole of their driveway, regardless of whether they were under a legal obligation to do so, they had a duty not to perform this task negligently.

Analysis

[40] In MacLeod, Mr. Justice Burnyeat listed a series of factors, and the legal authorities where they are referred to, that are relevant in considering whether an occupier has fulfilled the duty imposed by s. 3 of the OLA. These factors include “whether an unusual danger was present, whether a warning had been provided to the plaintiff, the ease or difficulty and the expense with which the unusual danger could have been remedied, and any prior record of safe usage of the premises by others or by the plaintiff.”

[41] In this case, the application of most of these factors, together with the factors I have referred to earlier that emanate from Zavaglia, support the conclusion that the defendants breached the duty of care they owed to the plaintiff. The driveway of the Rupert home was sloped. I have found that it was routinely slippery and that it was icy on the night of January 12, 2007. It was dark on that evening and it was routinely unlit. These factors, in combination, gave rise to a situation that was unsafe or hazardous. In addition, the defendants knew that Mrs. O’Leary was required to cross over parts of the driveway, after exiting her car, to access her suite. Her use of the areas in question and the hazards it presented were thus foreseeable.

[42] In saying this, I recognize that we live in a relatively northern climate and that our winter weather conditions often create an environment that is inherently precarious. In Brown v. British Columbia (Minister of Transportation and Highways), [1994] 1 S.C.R. 420 at p. 439, the court said “Ice is a natural hazard of Canadian winters. It can form quickly and unexpectedly. Although it is an expected hazard it is one that can never be completely prevented.”

[43] Still further, I accept that the standard or test is one of “reasonableness and not perfection”: Fournier v. Grebenc, 2003 NBQB 221, [2003] N.B.R. (2d) (Supp.) No. 28 at para. 31. Finally, I recognize that this case deals with a residential home rather than an apartment building, as in Neilson v. Bear, [1999] B.C.J. No. 86 (S.C.), or a shopping centre, as in Murphy v. Interprovincial Shopping Centres Ltd., 2004 NLSCTD 210, 241 Nfld. & P.E.I.R. 316, or a parking lot, as in Parmar v. Imperial Parking Ltd., [1977] B.C.J. No. 486 (S.C.), where the standards and procedures established by the landlord in response to winter conditions are designed to accommodate greater volumes of personal traffic. Accordingly, they are likely to be more rigorous or exacting.

[44] Nevertheless, the conditions that existed at the Rupert home were unnecessarily unsafe. I say unnecessarily unsafe because with little effort and at modest expense the conditions on the driveway could have been much improved. The simple installation of lighting that worked either on a timer or on a motion detector would have provided Mrs. O’Leary with the illumination necessary to better see where she was walking. Both devices are inexpensive. Both would have addressed the inconsistency with which the Ruperts turned on their outside lights or the occasions where, as in the case of the evening when Mrs. O’Leary fell, they had not yet arrived home from work to turn on the lights.

[45] Similarly, the use of salt or some other traction agent would have addressed the icy condition of the driveway. Though the Ruperts were diligent about shovelling their driveway, that step, without more, was not enough. Once again this step would have been relatively inexpensive and would not have been time consuming.

[46] I am also satisfied that the failure of the defendants to take these measures to address the icy and precarious condition of the driveway caused Mrs. O’Leary to fall.

[47] It is noteworthy that the Ruperts have, since Mrs. O’Leary’s accident, both taped the switch for the outside lights open and begun to apply salt to their driveway following a snowfall. It is clear that post-accident conduct cannot be viewed as an admission of negligence: Anderson v. Maple Ridge (District) (1992), 71 B.C.L.R. (2d) 68, 17 B.C.A.C. 172 (C.A.) at p. 75. Nevertheless, in Anderson, Wood J.A., as he then was, concluded that moving a stop sign after an accident was relevant to the question of whether it was difficult to see prior to the accident. Here the steps taken by the defendants post-accident are relevant to whether the driveway was dark and whether it remained slippery or icy after being shovelled.

[48] Similarly, post-accident conduct can be used as an indication of the ease with which a risk might have been avoided: Niblock v. Pac. Nat .Exhibition. (1981), 30 B.C.L.R. 20 (S.C.) at p. 25.

Mr. Justice Voith awarded the Plaintiff $25,000 for non-pecuniary damages.  Her most serious injury was a “second degree sprain of her ankle” which continued to impede the Plaintiff in some recreational activities some two years later.  There are not too many cases out there dealing with ankle sprains from the BC Supreme Court and this precedent may prove useful for others with similar injuries.

Slip and Fall Accidents in BC – What Does it Take For a Successful Lawsuit?


When you slip and fall and get injured on someone else’s property are you entitled to compensation?  The answer is not necessarily.
Injury in a slip and fall accident is only half of the equation.   The other half is fault.  The ‘occupier‘ of the property (or another defendant who owes you a duty of care) needs to be at fault for the slip and fall otherwise no successful claim for compensation can be brought.  Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court, New Westminster Registry, dealing with this area of the law.
In today’s case (Schray v. Jim Pattison Industries Ltd.) the Plaintiff fell (apparently on water) at a Save on Foods Grocery Store which was owned and operated by the Defendant.  The Plaintiff sued for her injuries alleging that the Defendant was at fault.  The Defendant brought a motion under Rule 18-A of the BC Supreme Court Rules to dismiss the case.  Madam Justice Arnold-Bailey denied the Defendant’s motion finding that the case was not suitable for summary dismissal.  Before reaching this conclusion, however, the Court summarized some of the legal principles behind a successful slip and fall lawsuit.   I reproduce these here for your convenience:

[21]        I agree that the prior summary trial judge set out the correct law in the previous application at paras. 5-10, as follows:

[5]        The duties of an occupier are set out in s. 3 of the Occupier’s Liability Act:

3(1)      An occupier of premises owes a duty to take that care that in all the circumstances of the case is reasonable to see that a person, and the person’s property, on the premises, and property on the premises of a person, whether or not that person personally enters on the premises, will be reasonably safe in using the premises.

(2)        The duty of care referred to in subsection (1) applies in relation to the

(a)      condition of the premises,

(b)      activities on the premises, or

(c)      conduct of third parties on the premises.

[6]        The Act does not create a presumption of negligence against an occupier whenever a person is injured on the premises.  To establish liability, a plaintiff must point to “some act (or some failure to act) on the part of the occupier which caused the [plaintiff’s] injury”: Bauman v. Stein (1991), 78 D.L.R. (4th) 118 at 127 (B.C.C.A.).

[7]        A similar test applies under the common law.

[8]        An occupier’s duty of care does not require the occupier to remove every possibility of danger.  The test is one of reasonableness, not perfection.  Thus, an occupier may avoid liability if it establishes that it had in place a reasonable system of inspection:  Carlson v. Canada Safeway Ltd. (1983), 47 B.C.L.R. 252 (C.A.).

[9]        The plaintiff also bears the burden of proving that the hazard in question caused the injury: Keraiff v. Grunerud (1990), 43 B.C.L.R. (2d) 228, 67 D.L.R. (4th) 475 (C.A.).

[10]      An occupier’s duty under the Act in relation to slips and falls in grocery stores was described as follows by Trainor J. in Rees v. B.C. Place (25 November 1986), Vancouver C850843 (B.C.S.C.) (quoted with approval by Hutcheon J.A. in Coulson v. Canada Safeway Ltd. (1988), 32 B.C.L.R. (2d) 212 at 214, [1989] 2 W.W.R. 264 (C.A.)):

The proceedings are brought under the Occupier’s Liability Act and that Act provides that an occupier has a duty to take that care that is reasonable in all the circumstances of the case to see that a person, in using the premises, will be reasonably safe.

The first requirement to satisfy that obligation is to take the kind of steps that were taken by the Defendants here to put into place a system to safeguard against dangerous substances being allowed to remain on the surface of the concourse. And then secondly to be sure that there was compliance by the people who were carrying out that responsibility with the system in place.

The bottom line is that the issue of fault is key.  When considering whether to sue for a slip and fall injury thought should be put to the issue of what the defendant did wrong to cause the incident or should have done to prevent it.

In my continued efforts to cross-reference the current BC Rules of Court with the soon to be in force New BC Supreme Court Civil Rules I will point out that Rule 18-A is kept intact under the new Rules and is reproduced almost identically at Rule 9-7 “Summary Trial“.

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Contact

If you would like further information or require assistance, please get in touch.

ERIK
MAGRAKEN

Personal Injury Lawyer

When not writing the BC Injury Law Blog, Erik is the managing partner at MacIsaac & Company, based in Victoria, B.C. He is also involved with combative sports regulatory issues and authors the Combat Sports Law Blog.

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