City Liable After Tenant Injures Other By Pouring Used Oil on a Fire
Reasons for judgement were published this week by the BC Court of Appeal dismissing an appeal of a jury finding liability after a tenant of a residential property owned by the City of Burnaby caused severe burns to a guest.
In today’s case (Abdi v Burnaby (City)) the Plaintiff, a young woman who was invited as a guest to a party at the Defendants property “suffered severe burns and her life was forever changed” after the Defendant tenant had a backyard fire and “poured used motor oil onto the fire from a bucket. The oil exploded onto Ms. Abdi, and she became covered in flames from neck‑to‑toe“.
There was evidence that the tenants “had a long history of having fires in the fire pit they created in their backyard, despite open fires being contrary to a City bylaw“. There was further evidence that the City had some prior knowledge of this requiring, at least on one occasion, the City’s fire department having to attend the residence and extinguish a fire. Following this incident the City did not follow up with any inspection of the property despite having a policy to conduct safety inspections of its residential properties.
At trial a jury found both the tenants and the City liable. In dismissing an appeal of the City’s liability the BC Court of Appeal provided the following reasons:
 The existence of the fire pit in the backyard was visible and obvious. It was open to a jury to find that if, instead of doing nothing after learning of the Bottomleys’ 2008 fire, the City had instead fulfilled its duty of care and taken the reasonable step of conducting a safety inspection, the City would have detected the fire pit. It was open to a jury to conclude that, in further fulfillment of its duty, the City could easily have rectified the situation by ordering the Bottomleys to remove the fire pit and to cease the practice of starting open fires in their backyard, steps it later took after the incident. The Bottomleys testified that if the City demanded this, they would have complied; and indeed they did comply after the incident in response to the City’s demand.
 In other words, there is evidence to conclude that the fire which caused harm to Ms. Abdi never would have occurred if the City had acted reasonably to fulfill its duty of care after receiving notice of the unsafe fire (the 2008 fire) on the property leased to the Bottomleys, and had inspected the property and demanded removal of the fire pit: there would be no fire pit; no fire; and no opportunity for the Bottomleys to do something dangerous with the fire, causing injury by burns to someone present. There was therefore evidence capable of supporting the conclusion that but for the City’s failure to take reasonable steps in exercise of its duty to keep persons on the property safe, Ms. Abdi would not have been harmed.