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Landlord Found Vicariously Liable For Assault By Their Relative

Reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, dealing with the issue of vicarious liability following an assault.
In this week’s case (Van Hartevelt v. Grewal) the Plaintiff was involved in a physical altercation with the Defendant R. Grewal.  While there were competing versions of what occurred Mr. Justice Savage found that this Defendant pummelled the Plaintiff “with his fists…sending him to the ground” then “kicked (the Plaintiff) forcefully in the ribs as he lay on the floor“.
The Defendant was found liable and ordered to pay over $65,000 in damages including punitive damages.
The Defendant was the son of the owners of the Rani Lynn Apartments which is where the altercation took place.  The Plaintiff was a tenant there.  The Plaintiff also sued the owners arguing they ought to be found vicariously liable for the assault.  Mr. Justice Savage agreed and found the owners jointly and severally liable (except for the punitive damage award).  In doing so the Court provided the following reasons illustrating that vicarious liability can flow beyond a formal employer/employee relationship:
[52] I accept Mr. G. Grewal’s evidence that he did not charge family members rent while they were living at the Randi Lynn.  However, he did not charge rent to Mr. R. Grewal, and at other times other relatives living at the Randi Lynn on the expectation that they would perform services for him at the apartment
[54]As a family member receiving free rent Mr. R. Grewal was beholden to the Second Named Defendants and was expected to do their bidding at the Randi Lynn…
[64] While it is true that independent contractors will not generally attract such liability and that employees generally will, it is not the case that the employer/employee relationship is the only one that can attract vicarious liability…

[65] Therefore, the main considerations in the present case are whether the relationship was sufficiently close to justify the imposition of liability, whether the tort was sufficiently connected to the assigned tasks of the tortfeasor to be regarded as the materialization of the risks created by the enterprise, and whether the imposition of liability would satisfy the policy goals outlined in Bazley.  I answer all of these questions in the affirmative.

[66] The reason that employers are often found to be vicariously liable whereas those hiring independent contractors are not is that in the former case, the employer has created the risk and is in the best position to mitigate it.  Thus, it is both efficient and fair to impose vicarious liability.  In the present case, although it was not a typical employment relationship, the Second Named Defendants created the risk associated with Mr. R. Grewal, were or should have been aware of the risk, and were in the best position to mitigate this risk.

[67] The Second Named Defendants were aware of the violent history of Mr. R. Grewal and were aware of the recent confrontation between Mr. R. Grewal and Mr. Van Hartevelt; a confrontation that arose in the context of  Mr. R. Grewal’s role as an on-site owner representative.  As such, the risk of violent confrontations initiated by Mr. R. Grewal was caused by the enterprise of the Second Named Defendants and they were in a unique position to mitigate this risk.  They were specifically made aware of the risk by Mr. Van Hartevelt’s letter of July 12, 2006.  The fact that the Second Named Defendants did not take steps to mitigate the risk renders them blameworthy.

[68] There is also the assertion, albeit made by Mrs. R. Grewal, that the ‘owners’ of the building were entitled to enter Mr. Hartevelt’s suite.   This was made in the presence of Mr. R. Grewal.   Mr. R. Grewal, rather than correcting this misapprehension, schooled as he was in tenancy matters, remained and the events followed.

[69] In my opinion there is a sufficiently close relationship to justify the imposition of vicarious liability in this case.

bc injury law, Mr. Justice Savage, punitive damages, Van Hartevelt v. Grewal, vicarious liability

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