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Injury Claim from Tenant Walking Into a Refrigerator Dismissed

Reasons for judgement were published today by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, dismissing an injury claim arising after a tenant walked into a refrigerator.

In today’s case (Van Hartevelt v. Oita Investments (BC) Ltd.) the Plaintiff was a tenant in an apartment complex owned by the Defendant.  A refrigerator was left in the hallway for several days.  The Plaintiff, who was aware the refrigerator was present, walked into it and allegedly injured his knee.  He sued for damages but the claim was dismissed finding that he was the author of his own misfortune.

In dismissing the claim Mr Justice Funt provided the following reasons:

[14]         The plaintiff testified that before the evening of January 20, 2017 when the incident took place, he had walked by the refrigerator on January 16, 17, 18, and 19, and earlier in the day of January 20.

[15]         The plaintiff took photographs of the refrigerator and its location both before and after the incident. The first photograph was taken at 12:46 p.m. on January 19, 2017. The group of photographs was entered as an exhibit at trial.

[16]         The photographs show a reasonably wide hallway with room to pass by the refrigerator without difficulty. The refrigerator was placed against one of the walls in the hallway.

[17]         The photographs also show a hall archway as one approaches the refrigerator from the plaintiff’s apartment. In order to go past the refrigerator, a person coming from the plaintiff’s apartment could not simply walk near the wall opposite where the refrigerator was placed but would need to pass through the archway and then make a jog to the right. As noted, the plaintiff had passed by the refrigerator a number of times prior to the evening of January 20, 2017 without difficulty…

[23]         As the plaintiff approached “at a normal pace” the area where the refrigerator was, he raised the three bags up to near the front of his chest to manoeuvre around the archway and the refrigerator. He claims, as he did so, he banged the outside of his left knee against the refrigerator. He testified that he said “Ow”. He continued to walk to say goodbye to Mr. Gettings and to place the garbage and the recyclables in the bins outside of the apartment building. The plaintiff then returned to his apartment using another door. It is not possible to enter the apartment building from the door he exited…

[25]         The plaintiff testified that a “Danger” sign should have been placed near the refrigerator or yellow tape should have been put around the refrigerator. He also said that there should have been a letter to tenants or a posting telling them to be careful. In further cross-examination, he added that at “no time did I get a written notice stating there was a fridge in the hallway please use alternative exits”…

[34]         For there to be a successful claim in negligence, there must be a causal connection between the risk and the cause of the injury.

[35]         In the case at bar, the plaintiff “saw the [refrigerator]” (he had also walked by it a number of times) and “had the opportunity and ability to easily avoid [banging his left knee against the refrigerator]”. Justice Braidwood’s posited hypothetical actually occurred: the plaintiff took a photograph of the refrigerator the day before he banged his knee.

[36]         If the hallway had not been well lit or if there had been smoke in the hallway, “[i]t might be otherwise”. As the trial judge in Lawrence further observed: “But that is not what happened here”.

[37]         Applying common sense to the facts of the case at bar, the defendants’ “conduct ceased to be a proximate cause of the accident”.

[38]         The plaintiff’s claim is dismissed.

Mr. Justice Funt, Van Hartevelt v. Oita Investments (BC) Ltd.