Court of Appeal Finds Insufficient Warning Sign Not Causative of Trip and Fall Injuries

Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Court of Appeal overturning a trial judgement and dismissing a trip and fall lawsuit.
In today’s case (Simmons v. Yeager Properties Inc.) the Plaintiff injured herself at the Defendant’s bakery.  Outside the bakery was a concrete landing and a wooden patio deck.  There was a 2-4 inch height difference between these surfaces.  The Defendant marked this with paint and also with a sign that read “watch your step please“.  The sign faded over time with the words ‘watch‘ and ‘step‘ becoming ‘quite faded and difficult to see‘.
At trial the Court found the Plaintiff 75% at fault with 25% blame going to the Defendant’s on the basis of the faded sign.  The BC Court of Appeal outright dismissed the claim finding the faded sign was not causative of the injuries given that the Plaintiff was not looking in the direction of the sign and did not see it at all.  In reaching this conclusion the Court provided the following reasons:
[12]Thus the judge determined the bakery owners’ maintenance was inadequate to refute the conclusion that the ineffective warning sign constituted a breach of the Occupiers Liability Act:
[42]      Accordingly, I find that the plaintiff has proven on a balance of probabilities that by failing to maintain the outdoor waning sign, the defendants failed to take reasonable care to ensure the exterior area leading to the entrance of the bakery was reasonably safe.
[13]        This, however, is the extent of any finding the judge made of any breach of the Occupiers Liability Act or the standard of care attributable to the owners of the bakery and, in considering Ms. Simmons’ neglect for her own safety, the judge then went on to find that Ms. Simmons was not looking in the direction of the sign prior to her fall:
[45]      Here, I find that the patio step was there to be seen by the plaintiff had she paid attention to where she was going. It was demarcated by white paint that was generally visible to persons accessing the bakery entrance from the patio deck. The photographs of the area taken shortly after this incident show that the paint was not faded and worn as suggested by Mr. Murphy. It is questionable whether the faded outdoor warning sign was a significant factor in the circumstances since the plaintiff was not looking in that direction and did not see the sign at all.
[46]      If the plaintiff had been watching where she was walking, she would likely have seen that there was a difference in level from where she was to where she was going. I find her expectation that the entire walking surface would be level to be an unreasonable one, as she was not paying attention but was instead focused on the woman in front of her and on the front entrance to the bakery.
[14]        With respect, I am unable to see how it can be said the bakery owners’ breach of the Occupiers Liability Act renders them liable for the injuries Ms. Simmons suffered when she fell. The fact the sign was not properly maintained such as to have been readable cannot have caused Ms. Simmons to fall if, as the judge found, she was “not looking in that direction and did not see the sign at all”. Had the sign been readable it would have made no difference. Ms. Simmons would not have seen it. The bakery owners’ breach of the duty they owed to patrons like Ms. Simmons cannot have caused her fall.
[15]        Thus Ms. Simmons failed to “show on a balance of probabilities that ‘but for’ the defendant’s negligent act, the injury would not have occurred” (see Clements at para. 8). The facts found by the judge do not provide a legal basis for determining the owners of the bakery to be liable for the injuries Ms. Simmons suffered when she fell.
 

bc injury law, causation, failure to warn, Simmons v. Yeager Properties Inc.

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ERIK
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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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