Tag: Duty of Care

No Legal Duty of Care Between "Ski Buddies"

Reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, addressing a novel claim; whether ‘ski buddies’ owe each other a legal duty of care.
This week’s case (Kennedy v. Coe) involved a heli-skiing expedition.  The Plaintiff’s husband and the Defendant never met before.  The skiers were to ski in a buddy system for certain runs and the two were paired up for this purpose.
During a run which did not require buddy supervision the Plaintiff’s husband had a fatal accident.  The Defendant did not notice at the time but when he realized the Plaintiff’s husband was absent he alerted the group and a search was undertaken.  The Plaintiff sued for damages arguing that had the Defendant paid better attention the search could have been undertaken sooner and possibly saved her husband’s life.
Madam Justice Fischer dismissed the claim finding the Defendant acted reasonably in the circumstances and even if he did not there was no legal duty of care in these circumstances.  In reaching this conclusions the Court provided the following reasons:
[99]         There is no question that there are many inherent risks in back-country heli-skiing such that all skiers and snowboarders who agree to be buddies should look out for each other so far as is practicable in whatever circumstances they may find themselves. However, translating a moral obligation into a legal one requires as a first step a relationship of proximity that meets the factors established in the jurisprudence I have reviewed. For the reasons I have outlined, I conclude that none of the three factors in Childs support the imposition of a positive duty to act in the circumstances of this case, and the plaintiff has failed to establish aprima facie duty of care. A skier participating in guided, back-country skiing who agrees to be assigned as a ski buddy with another skier on a particular run is not, without more, in a relationship of sufficient proximity to give rise to a duty of care to the other skier when they are not skiing as buddies on other runs. The “more” may require clear instructions from the guides or a clearly defined mutual understanding between ski buddies of their roles and responsibilities to each other in varying terrain, snow conditions and other circumstances, which would be subject to an analysis of the contrary policy considerations at stage two of the Annstest…
[121]     The plaintiff’s claim is dismissed. It is indeed very sad that Mr. Kennedy met a tragic and untimely death, but he did so after a terrible accident while participating in a high-risk sport and responsibility for his death cannot be placed on Mr. Coe.
 

More on Commercial Host Liability and Excessive Alcohol Service


As previously discusseda commercial host can be liable for damages if they serve patrons to the point of intoxication and those patrons then are injured or cause injury to others.  Reasons for judgement were released yesterday by the BC Supreme Court, New Westminster Registry, addressing this topic.
In yesterday’s case (Van Hove v. Boiselle) the Plaintiff was injured in a “fatal motor vehicle accident”.  The defendant was allegedly drunk at the time.  Prior to the collision the Defendant was drinking at the Artful Dodger Pub “to the point that the Defendant became heavily intoxicated“.
The Plaintiff sued the driver for damages.  ICBC, in the defence of the claim, brought Third Party proceedings agaisnt the Pub arguing they were partly at fault for the collision due to over-service.  The Pub brought a summary trial arguing the claims against them should be dismissed.  Mr. Justice Smith refused to dismiss the claim finding the case could not be disposed of by summary trial and dismissed the Pub’s application.  In doing so the Court provided the following reasons:

[16] The duty of care that commercial hosts who serve alcohol owe to the general public arises out of the profit making nature of the enterprise and the well-known dangers associated with the product. It is generally foreseeable that intoxicated patrons may, as a direct result of their intoxication, cause injury to others.

[17] The question then becomes one of the standard of care – whether, in the circumstances of a particular case, the commercial host did what was necessary to fulfill the duty. That inquiry includes the question of the whether the actual circumstances and means of injury were foreseeable.

[18] A plaintiff who proves breach of both the duty and the standard of care must then prove causation – whether the breaches actually caused the injury, which would not have occurred “but for” the negligent conduct of the defendant.

[19] L.J.D. in effect submits that Ms. Boiselle’s safe arrival home proves that the standard of care was complied with and/or proves that the chain of causation was broken. In my view, that ignores the highly fact-specific nature of both inquiries. The proposition that L.J.D. puts forward may well be one the properly applies in many, if not most, cases of this kind, but it cannot be treated as a principle of law that applies regardless of any additional facts that may arise in an individual case.

[20] One such fact in this case, on which I do not have sufficient evidence, is the level of Mr. Goll’s intoxication. If L.J.D.’s employees knew or ought to have known that he was as intoxicated as Ms. Boiselle, or nearly so, it may be open to a trial judge to find, on all of the evidence, that allowing her to leave the pub in his company did not meet the standard of care. It may also be open to a trial judge to find that her arrival home with an equally intoxicated person did not amount to a “safe” arrival within the meaning of the authorities and did not break the chain of causation.

[21] I therefore find myself unable to find the facts necessary to decide this matter on summary trial and the third party’s application must be dismissed.

Driver Fully Liable Following Passenger Ejection From Box of Pick Up Truck

The BC Court of Appeal released reasons for judgement this week assessing a driver 100% at fault for serious injuries to a passenger who was ejected from the box of his pick-up truck.
In this week’s case (Vedan v. Stevens) the Defendant driver allowed 4 children sit in the box of his pick-up truck.  The 12 year old Plaintiff was one of these children.  In the course of the trip the defendant ”first became aware of a problem when he heard pounding on the cab of his truck…he stopped the truck and determined that one of the children, the plaintiff, was no longer in the truck box. He looked back and could see the plaintiff lying in the middle of the road“.
The Court heard no evidence as to how the Plaintiff came to fall out.   At trial the motorist was found at fault for negligently allowing the Plaintiff to ride in the box.  The Plaintiff was also found 25% at fault with the Court concluding that the Plaintiff “must have at least moved from a seated position” in being ejected.  The Plaintiff appealed this finding arguing there was no evidence to support this conclusion.  The BC Court of Appeal agreed and placed 100% of the blame on the motorist.  In doing so the Court provided the following reasons:

[14] A plaintiff must take reasonable care for his or her own safety. The question when considering reasonable conduct by children is whether the child exercised the care to be expected from a child of like age, intelligence and experience. (Ottosen v. Kasper (1986), 37 C.C.L.T. 270 at 275; McEllistrum v. Etches [1956] S.C.R. 787 at 793).

[15] In this case, we do not know why Inquala stood up or even if he stood up voluntarily. As already noted, no one gave evidence about how Inquala left the back of the truck – whether he got up himself and fell out, whether he was bounced out, whether he was pushed out, whether a wasp was buzzing around him, or whether the other children were harassing him and he had to move. There was no evidence of the circumstances that caused him to get up from his seated position and, therefore, there is no basis for a finding that Inquala did not take reasonable care for his safety. Such a finding is based on speculation.

[16] In my respectful view, there was no foundation in the evidence upon which the trial judge could reasonably infer that Inquala was contributorily negligent. This conclusion is a palpable and overriding error, with which we may interfere.

[17] I would allow the appeal, set aside the part of the order which found Inquala contributorily negligent, and assess liability to Mr. Stevens at 100%.

Lawsuit Against Delta Police Following Bar Fight Dismissed


Lengthy reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, disposing of a personal injury lawsuit launched by a former NHL enforcer against the Delta Police and others following a 2006 assault which occurred at the Cheers Pub in Delta, BC.
In this week’s case (Burnett v. Moir) the Plaintiff suffered a moderately severe traumatic brain injury after being struck on the head with a bar stool.  The injury ended the Plaintiff’s professional hockey career.
There was video surveillance which showed “an assailant striking the plaintiff on the head with a bar stool taken from the premises afer he apparently stumbled and fell to the ground as he and the others were being ejected“.  The assailant was never identified.
The Plaintiff sued the owners and managers of the Cheers Pub, the local police, and the local government for compensation for his personal injuries.  Prior to trial he settled his case with the Pub.  The Plaintiff alleged that the local police and the local government were liable because they “failed to properly identify Cheers as a nuisance to the public, a trap for the unwary, and to take pre-emptive steps to abate the danger it represented to potential patrons”.
The Plaintiff led evidence to support his allegations including evidence that from 1998-2007 “there were a total of 2,410 police service calls to Cheers during that period, 231 of which were for assaults, 9 of which were for uttering threats, 10 of which were obstructing a peace officer, 138 for suspicious person/vehicle occurrences, 200 of which were for creating a disturbance, 217 for “unspecified assistance” and 1,605 of which were for “other”“.
Despite this evidence the lawsuit was dismissed with the Court finding that the Police and Local Government did not owe the Plaintiff a duty of care in these circumstances. Mr. Justice Cullen summarized his analysis as follows :

[411] The presence or absence of a close causal connection between the negligence alleged and the harm caused is a factor in determining proximity.  In Odhavji Estate v. Woodhouse, supra,Iacobucci J. held as follows in the context of a proximity analysis at para. 57:

Although a close causal connection is not a condition precedent of liability, it strengthens the nexus between the parties.

[412] Where, as here, the causal connection, insofar as the failure to warn is concerned, is remote and speculative rather than close, it cannot be said that the nexus between the parties is strong or compelling.

[413] For those reasons, while finding some limited evidence of a connection between the Delta Defendants and prospective Cheers patrons arising from the police corporate knowledge that a person entering Cheers was likely to be exposed to an environment involving some violent or turbulent circumstances, I am not satisfied the evidence reaches the level of establishing a close and direct relationship featuring the indicia of proximity identified by Chief Justice McLachlin in Hill v. Hamilton Wentworth, supra, or manifested in other decisions such as Jane Doe, Mooney, orSchacht.

[414] I thus conclude the relationship at issue does not sustain sufficient proximity to found a duty of care.  The plaintiff was but one of a large indeterminate pool of potential patrons of Cheers, rather than an identifiable potential victim of a specific threat.

Lawsuits Against Insurance Brokers: When Policy Exclusions Are Not Discussed


Important reasons for judgement were released last month by the BC Court of Appeal making it clear that insurance brokers can be sued for professional negligence if they fail to properly advise clients of the limits of their insurance policies.
In last month’s case (Beck v. Johnston, Maier Insurance Agencies Ltd.) the Plaintiff’s home was intentionally burned down by her husband in a tragic murder/suicide.  The home was insured however the policy had an exclusion for losses that occurred as a result of “intentional acts by named insureds“.
The Plaintiff’s estate sued the insurance broker claiming they were negligent in failing to discuss this exclusion when the policy was renewed (which last occurred after the Plaintiff split up with her husband).  The claim succeeded at trial.  The insurance brokers appealed arguing the claim should be dismissed as this damage was not forseeable.  The BC Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal and in doing so provided the following reasons which should ring as a caution to insurance brokers when selling policies of insurance:
[17] Members of the public purchase insurance to protect themselves and their property from unforeseen events. Policies of homeowner’s insurance, rented dwelling insurance and tenant’s insurance are invariably written by insurers, who describe the coverage that they are prepared to provide and the exceptions to that coverage in the policies they write. They then quote the premium that they require to provide the coverage….
[21] Both Mr. Sache, an insurance broker retained by the appellant and Mr. Pat Anderson, a licensed insurance broker retained by the respondent agreed that it is standard practice for brokers to explain the intentional act exclusion in a homeowner’s policy to a customer when insurance is first placed for that customer….
[25] While Ms. Beck may not have had any knowledge or belief that Mr. Beck intended to harm the home at the time her insurance coverage was renewed in July of 2007, such knowledge was not the issue. The issue was whether her insurance broker ought to have discussed her insurance needs with her when it was clear that she and her husband had separated….

[27] The summary trial judge was bound to accept, as she did, the uncontradicted evidence before her of the standard of care to be expected on an insurance broker. In areas where the courts lack expertise with respect to a particular field of endeavour, it is necessary to rely on expert evidence of standard practice of those in that field of endeavour in order to determine whether the requisite duty of care has been met. In ter Neuzen v. Korn, [1995] 3 S.C.R. 674 at para. 39 Sopinka J. referred with approval to the following statement by Professor Fleming in The Law of Torts(7th ed. 1987) at p. 109:

Conformity with general practice, on the other hand, usually dispels a charge of negligence. It tends to show what others in the same “business” considered sufficient, that the defendant could not have learnt how to avoid the accident by the example of others, that most probably no other practical precautions could have been taken, and that the impact of an adverse judgment (especially in cases involving industry or a profession) will be industry-wide and thus assume the function of a “test case”. Finally, it underlines the need for caution against passing too cavalierly upon the conduct and decision of experts.

[28] It was unnecessary for the respondent to prove that Ms. Beck foresaw that Mr. Beck Sr. represented a “real” or an actual risk of intentionally damaging the home. On the evidence, Ms. Beck’s change in circumstances presented a foreseeable new risk to be considered vis a vis her insurance needs…

[33] The summary trial judge was clearly of the view that, when a renewal of insurance coverage is required, the broker similarly has a duty to provide relevant information about the types of coverage available to the client, to meet any change in needs that the client may have as a result of any changes in his or her circumstances of which the broker is or should be aware. There was ample evidence upon which the trial judge could make that finding, and no basis upon which this Court can interfere with it.

BC Government Shielded From Liability in "Shaken Baby" Lawsuit

Reasons for judgement were released last week by the BC Supreme Court, Victoria Registry, discussing when a government authority can be pursued for damages for the negligent excercise of their powers.
In last week’s case (Sivertson (Guardian ad litem of) v. Dutrisac) the infant Plaintiff was brain injured allegedly “while in the care of…a licensed daycare ‘Kare Bare Child Care’ “.  The Plaintiff sued various Defendants including the Capital Health Region “CHR” who were responsible for licensing the Daycare in question.
The CHR brought an application to dismiss the lawsuit against them arguing that even if they inadequately exercised their duties the lawsuit could not succeed because the CHR did not owe the Plaintiff a ‘private law duty of care‘.  Madam Justice Boyd agreed and dismissed the lawsuit against the CHR.  In doing so the Court provided the following reasons:
[51] The overall statutory scheme governing the licensing of daycare facilities provides an efficient framework to ensure the operation of community care facilities “in a manner that will maintain the spirit, dignity and individuality of the person being cared for “(s. 4(1)(a)(i)). …

[57] As in the Cooper decision, the CHR and its inspectors must balance a myriad of competing interests when dealing with the licensing and inspection of daycares, including the daycare owner’s interest in the continued operation of her business and the parents’ and the public’s interest in the protection of children in the care of the daycare owner.

[58] In my view, this balancing of interests is inconsistent with the imposition of a private duty of care.  Thus, on a review of all of the authorities, and a consideration of the legislation in issue, I reject the notion that any private law duty of care was owed by the CHR (and its employees) to the infant plaintiff and his family.

[59] If however I am in error, and it is found that such a private duty of law does arise in the circumstances of this case, then I nevertheless find that the application of the second stage of theAnns test yields no different result.  As the Ontario Court of Appeal held in Williams v. Canada (Attorney General), 2009 ONCA 378, at para. 17, at the second stage :

…the court considers whether there are “residual policy considerations” that militate against recognizing a novel duty of care.  …These are policy considerations that “are not concerned with the relationship between the parties, but with the effect of recognizing a duty of care on other legal obligations, the legal system and society more generally”.

[60] In my view, any private law duty of care which may arise in this case would be negated for overriding policy reasons as in the Cooper case.  This is because (i) the licensing officers were exercising both policy and quasi-judicial functions such that any decision required the balancing of both public and private interests.  The Director must act fairly or judicially in removing an operator’s license and this is potentially inconsistent with a duty of care to children and families; (ii) the Director must make difficult discretionary decisions in an area of public policy.  His decisions are made within the limits of the powers conferred on him in the public interest; and (iii) if there was a private duty of care owed by the Director to the children and parents, it would effectively create an insurance scheme for all those children attending licensed daycares within the Province, at great costs to the taxpaying public.  As the Court held in Edwards, there is no indication here that the Legislature intended that result.  Indeed the statutory immunity from liability provision suggests the contrary.

Driver Liable to Passenger Ejected from Box of Truck

(Update November 2, 2011 – Note the below case was modified by the BC Court of Appeal with a finding that the motorist should be 100% at fault due to the absence of any evidence of contributory negligence)
Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court, Vernon Registry, discussing the issue of fault when a passenger riding in the box of a truck is ejected and injured.
In today’s case (Vedan v. Stevens) the Defendant driver allowed 4 children sit in the box of his pick-up truck.  The 12 year old Plaintiff was one of these children.  In the course of the trip the defendant “first became aware of a problem when he heard pounding on the cab of his truck…he stopped the truck and determined that one of the children, the plaintiff, was no longer in the truck box. He looked back and could see the plaintiff lying in the middle of the road“.
Madam Justice Beames determined that the Plaintiff rose from a seated position in the course of the trip and then was ejected.  The court held that both the Plaintiff and the Defendant were at fault with the Defendant shouldering most of the blame.  Madam Justice Beames provided the following reasons:
[31] There is no question that the defendant was responsible for allowing the plaintiff and the other children to ride in the box of his truck. He did not have to allow the plaintiff to get into the box of the truck, and he had enough seats and seat belts, I find, inside the truck to accommodate all of his passengers, including the plaintiff…

[34] I find the defendant owed a duty of care to the plaintiff and that he breached that duty and failed to exercise a standard of care of a reasonable person in the same circumstances. That negligence was clearly causally connected to what happened to the plaintiff. The plaintiff would not have been injured had the defendant not allowed him to ride unrestrained in the box of his truck. It was foreseeable, in my view, that what occurred would or could occur.

[35] I turn now to the issue of contributory negligence on the part of the plaintiff…

[44] In the circumstances of this case, I would not find that the plaintiff was contributorily negligent simply by riding in the back, or the box, of the truck. He was allowed to be there by an elder from the Sun Dance ceremony which featured community, trust and respect for elders. However, I do find that the plaintiff was, by getting up from a seated position on the floor of the box in a moving truck, negligent in fact.

[45] Consequently, the defendant has proved contributory negligence…

[53] In all of the circumstances of this case, I apportion fault between them as follows: the plaintiff, 25 percent; the defendant, 75 percent.

BC Supreme Court Finds Liability Can Follow Unreasonably Low Certification Standards

(UPDATE October 27, 2011:  An appeal of the below decision was dismissed by the BC Court of Appeal on October 27, 2011. Despite upholding the trial result the BC Court of Appeal provided comments on the Duty of Care of CSA at paragraphs 58-61 differing from the below analysis.  The Court of Appeal concluded that “For policy reasons, CSA does not have a duty of care in negligence to hockey players who are injured while wearing certified hockey helmets“)

Earlier this week the BC Supreme Court, Victoria Registry, released reasons for judgement dismissing a lawsuit for compensation as a result of a traumatic brain injury sustained during a hockey game (More v. Bauer Nike Hockey Inc).
The incident occurred in 2004 when the Plaintiff was 17 years old.  He was playing an organized game of hockey.  He was wearing a helmet which was certified by the Canadian Standards Association (the “CSA”) and met all CSA standards.   During the game the Plaintiff fell into the boards and suffered a subdural hematoma.  This was apparently the only reported incident of a helmeted player sustaining a subdural hematoma while playing organized hockey in Canadian history.
The effects of the injury caused severe and profound disability in the Plaintiff.  The Plaintiff sued various Defendants including the manufacturer of the helmet and the CSA.  The Plaintiff alleged that the helmet was negligently manufactured and that the CSA was negligent in failing to adopt proper standards for helmet certification.  The Plaintiff’s claims were ultimately dismissed with the Court finding that the helmet was not defectively manufactured and that the standards set by the CSA were appropriate.
This case has received considerable press in Canada and abroad even gaining mention in the New York Times sports blog.  What interests me most about this case is not the ultimate result rather it was the Court’s discussion of the potential liability of institutions which set inadequate safety standards.
In the course of the lawsuit the CSA argued that even if their standards were unreasonably low they could not be sued because they did not owe the Plaintiff a duty of care.  Mr. Justice Macaulay disagreed and held that institutions that set certification standards for safety equipment can be sued in negligence if they set their standards too low.  Specifically the court held as follows:

212] I am satisfied that it was reasonably foreseeable that a hockey player and wearer of a mandatory certified hockey helmet might suffer harm if the CSA set the certification standard unreasonably low in the circumstances. On the question of proximity, I extrapolate from Cooper at paras. 32–34. Is the player, who must obtain and wear a certified helmet in order to participate in organized hockey, so closely and directly affected by the CSA decision respecting the adequacy of the certification standard that the latter ought reasonably to have the player’s legitimate interest in safety in mind? In my respectful view, the answer must be yes.

[213] By legislative definition, any hockey helmet that is not certified is a hazardous product and cannot be sold in Canada. No matter how well designed the helmet may, in fact, be, no manufacturer can offer it for sale unless it is certified. The consumer hockey player has no choice and buys, or otherwise obtains, the helmet for the purpose of self-protection in a game that has inherent dangers. Nonetheless, there is some reliance by the consumer on the fact of certification and an expectation that the risk of at least some injuries is reasonably reduced. Otherwise, there would be no need for any helmet at all.

[214] With the greatest of deference to the possibility that Hughes stands for a different outcome, I am satisfied that there is sufficient proximity in the present case for a prima facie duty of care.

In short, this decision means that if an institution sets certification standards for products to be sold in British Columbia that institution may be liable if their standards are set at an unreasonably low level.

More on the Standard of Care When Driving Near Children


As I’ve previously written, children can be unpredictable.  Accordingly drivers need to use extra care when passing by children otherwise they can be found liable for an accident in circumstances where their actions may not otherwise be considered careless.  In legalese, the presence of children raises the ‘standard of care‘.  Reasons for judgement were released today discussing this area of law in an unsuccessful personal injury lawsuit.
In today’s case (Chen v. Beltran) the Plaintiff was involved in an unfortunate accident in New Westminster, BC in 2006.  The 11 year old Plaintiff was lying on a skateboard travelling down a steep hill.  The Plaintiff lost control and entered an intersection against a red light.  He was struck by an oncoming motorist and was injured.
The Plaintiff’s lawyer agreed that the Plaintiff was at fault for this accident but argued that the driver was partially at fault as well.  Mr. Justice Greyell disagreed and found the Plaintiff was fully at fault for the incident.  Before dismissing the case, however, Mr. Justice Greyell summarized the standard of care imposed on motorists when driving by children.  The Court stated as follows:

[25] The law to be applied in determining the duty of a driver when there are children in or about the area was set out by Hood J. in Bourne (Guardian ad litem of) v. Anderson, [1997] B.C.J. No. 915, 27 M.V.R. (3d) 63 (S.C.) at paras. 55 and 56:

55 In my opinion, once the presence of a child or children on a road is known, or should have been known, to the driver of a vehicle proceeding through a residential area where children live, that driver must take special precautions for the safety of the child or children seen, and any other child or children yet unseen whose possible appearance or entrance onto the road is reasonably foreseeable. The precautions include keeping a sharp look out, perhaps sounding the horn, but more importantly, immediately reducing the speed of the vehicle so as to be able to take evasive actions if required.

The above standard of care has been followed in numerous subsequent decisions:  see for example, Hixon (Guardian ad litem of) v. Roberts, 2004 BCCA 335; Mitchell (Guardian ad litem of) v. James, 2007 BCSC 878; Johnson v. Eyre, 2009 BCSC 1711.

[27] The general principle underlying any determination of fault or blameworthiness rests on a finding whether the defendant could reasonably foresee that his or her conduct would cause or contribute to the accident.  When it is known there are young children in the area drivers must use extra care and attention as children do not always behave as adults would in similar circumstances.  In Chohan v. Wayenberg (1990), 67 D.L.R. (4th) 318 (B.C.C.A.), the Court of Appeal stated at 319:

… There is, of course, a need for constant vigilance for children on the roads, especially in suburban areas, for the very reason that they can not be expected always to act with the same care that is expected of adults.

While this greater standard of care ultimately did not assist the Plaintiff in succeeding in his lawsuit, this case demonstrates that our Courts will place greater scrutiny on the actions of a driver when they are driving by an area where there are children.

When Can a Third Party Be Responsible for Preventing Harm Intentionally Caused by Another? The Supreme Court of Canada Weighs in


If someone is injured/killed intentionally by someone else can a third party be held civilly liable for failing to prevent the harm?  While the answer to this question turns heavily on the facts the answer can be yes and earlier this month the Supreme Court of Canada released a decision discussing this complex area of personal injury law.
In Fullowka v. Pinkerton’s of Canada Ltd. nine workers were killed in the course of a contentious labour dispute.   During the bitter strike one of the strikers “evaded security and surreptitiously entered the mine.  He set an explosive device which, as he intended, was detonated by a trip wire, killing nine miners.”
The survivors of the dead miners brought a lawsuit against various parties including the mine’s owners, their security firm and the territorial government claiming damages for “negligently failing to prevent the murders“.
The lawsuit largely succeeded at trial but was overturned by the Court of Appeal.  The Supreme Court of Canada ultimately sided with the Court of Appeal but before dismissing the case highlighted some important legal principles addressing the need to take reasonable steps in certain circumstances to prevent foreseeable intentionally inflected harm at the hands of others.  Some of the highlights of the Court’s discussion were as follows:

The analysis turns on whether the relationship between the appellants and the defendants discloses sufficient foreseeability and proximity to establish a prima facie duty of care and, if so, whether there are any residual policy considerations which ought to negate or limit that duty of care… The analysis must focus specifically on the relationships in issue, as there are particular considerations relating to foreseeability, proximity and policy in each…

[19] In my view, the relationship between the murdered miners and Pinkerton’s and the government meets the requirements of foreseeability and proximity such that a prima facie duty of care existed.  I also conclude that these prima facie duties are not negated by policy considerations…

[26] In cases of this nature, the law requires close examination of the question of proximity. The inquiry is concerned with whether the case discloses factors which show that the relationship between the plaintiff and the defendant was sufficiently close and direct to give rise to a legal duty of care, considering such factors as expectations, representations, reliance and the property or other interests involved….  Proximity is not confined to physical proximity, but includes “such close and direct relations that the act complained of directly affects a person whom the person alleged to be bound to take care would know would be directly affected by his careless act”…

[27] The Court discussed proximity in detail in Childs, at paras. 31-46.  In Childs, as here, the proposed duty was to take care to prevent harm caused to the plaintiff by a third party; in other words, what was proposed there was a positive duty to act even though the defendant’s conduct had not directly caused foreseeable physical injury to the plaintiff. The Court noted that there are at least three factors which may identify the situations in which the law has recognized such duties (paras. 38-40).  The first is that the defendant is materially implicated in the creation of the risk or has control of the risk to which others have been invited.  The second is the concern for the autonomy of the persons affected by the positive action proposed.  As the Chief Justice put it: “The law … accepts that competent people have the right to engage in risky activities … [and] permits third parties witnessing risk to decide not to become rescuers or otherwise intervene” (para. 39). The third is whether the plaintiff reasonably relied on the defendant to avoid and minimize risk and whether the defendant, in turn, would reasonably expect such reliance….

The relevant question is whether the miners reasonably relied on Pinkerton’s to take reasonable precautions to reduce the risk.  The Court of Appeal found that was their reasonable expectation. This reasoning, in my view, supports rather than negates the existence of sufficient proximity.  The fact that, as the Court of Appeal noted, any higher expectation on the miners’ part would have been unreasonable was not relevant to the analysis.

[31] Pinkerton’s must have shared the miners’ expectation.  It was there to protect property and people. The whole point of its presence was to help secure the site so that the mine could continue to operate. The miners who continued to work during the strike made up a well-defined and identifiable group. Pinkerton’s surely ought to have expected that the very people it was there to protect would rely on it to exercise reasonable care in doing so.

[32] Pinkerton’s also undertook to exert some control over the risk..Pinkerton’s undertook to exert some control over everyone who came onto the property, including Mr. Warren…

[34] I conclude that the reasonable expectations of both the miners and Pinkerton’s as well as Pinkerton’s undertaking to exert some control over the risk to the miners supported the trial judge’s finding of proximity…

[70] The concern about indeterminate liability is not valid here.  This policy consideration has often held sway in negligence claims for pure economic loss. But even in that context, it has not always carried the day to exclude a duty of care.  The concern is that the proposed duty of care, if accepted, would impose “liability in an indeterminate amount for an indeterminate time to an indeterminate class”, to use the often repeated words of Cardozo C.J. in Ultramares Corp. v. Touche, 174 N.E. 441 (N.Y. 1931), at p. 444.  At the root of the concern is that the duty, and therefore the right to sue for its breach, is so broad that it extends indeterminately.  In this sense, the policy concern about indeterminate liability is closely related to proximity; the question is whether there are sufficient special factors arising out of the relationship between the plaintiff and the defendant so that indeterminate liability is not the result of   imposing the proposed duty of care: see, e.g., Canadian National Railway Co. v. Norsk Pacific Steamship Co., , [1992] 1 S.C.R. 1021, at p. 1153.  What is required is a principled basis upon which to draw the line between those to whom the duty is owed and those to whom it is not: see, e.g., Bow Valley Husky (Bermuda) Ltd. v. Saint John Shipbuilding Ltd., , [1997] 3 S.C.R. 1210, at para. 64, per McLachlin J. (as she then was).

[71] I do not see this as a difficulty here and, as a result, I do not think that the proposed duty of care exposes the government to indeterminate liability.  What is in issue is liability for physical injury to miners caused by an explosion in a mine which, it is alleged, would have been prevented had the government taken reasonable care in discharging its  statutory duties in relation to mine safety.  The duty is to the finite group of miners working in the mine which the inspectors had inspected repeatedly.  The potential liability is no more indeterminate than in the building inspector cases I reviewed earlier.

While this case was highly factually specific the legal principles discussed by the Supreme Court of Canada can be applied to more commonly seen fact patters.  One example of intentional harm at the hands of others are the unfortunate cases involving sexual abuse.  Where priests, teachers or other adults in authority sexually abuse young victims liability may extend beyond the person committing the crime.  In certain circumstances religious hierarchies have been found liable for sexual abuse committed by priests and school boards have been found liable for abuse committed by teachers.

The Supreme Court of Canada’s detailed reasoning in this case is welcome for anyone advancing a personal injury lawsuit involving an intentional harm seeking to extend liability further and I suggest that any Canadian lawyers prosecuting such a claim familiarize themselves with this judgement in full.

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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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