Tag: Occupier’s liability claims

Landlord Liable for Guest's Fall From Balcony

(UPDATE November 18, 2011The case discussed below was upheld in reasons for judgement released today by the BC Court of Appeal.  These can be accessed here)

Reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court, Campbell River Registry, discussing the duties of landlords to take reasonable steps to make sure buildings they own are safe for tenants and guests.
In today’s case (Jack v. Tekavec) the Defendant owned an apartment in Gold River, BC.  He rented this out to a third party who invited the Plaintiff over.  While visiting the Plaintiff “leaned against a balcony railing which gave way.   (He) plummetted three stories to the ground and was badly injured“. The Plaintiff sued the building owner arguing he was careless for failing to keep the balcony railing in good repair.  Mr. Justice Savage agreed.  In finding the Defendant at fault for the Plaintiff’s injuries the Court stated as follows:

[38]         The evidence establishes that the defendant, as owner and operator of the apartment block, is a landlord pursuant to s. 1 of the RTA.  I find that the defendant is responsible for the repair and maintenance of the deck and owes a duty of care pursuant to s. 6 of the Act to the guests of his tenants including Jack.

[39]         That duty of care includes, in my opinion, a duty to inspect.  The duty to inspect is part of the duty of the landlord to take reasonable care in carrying out the responsibility for the repair of premises under the Act. ..

[44]         In this case the defendant knew of a problem with the balcony railing before the tenancy commenced.  The tenants requested that he repair the balcony railing but he chose not to do so.  The defendant was also aware that the tenant, through Billy, took it upon herself to effect a repair when he did not respond to the requests.  The defendant saw that the work done by the tenant was not done properly.

[45]         The defendant knew that Billy, who did the work, was not skilled.  Although this repair was his responsibility, as the landlord responsible for maintenance, and he knew the work was done wrongly, he chose not to fix it.  He was well aware of the danger of improper work on the balcony railing.

[46]         In my opinion Tekavec owed a duty of care to Mark and to Mark’s guests including Jack.  The standard of care required that he respond to requests of tenants to inspect the tenanted premises regarding the safety problems they raised.  The standard of care also required that, if a tenant did work on a balcony railing that he saw was wrongly done, that he inspect and repair or cause to have repaired the balcony railing himself.

[47]         By choosing inaction he breached the standard of care of a reasonable landlord responsible for such maintenance.  His breach of the standard of care was a direct cause of the accident and Jack’s injuries.

[48]         In the result, I find Tekavec liable to Jack for damages.

The Plaintiff’s damages included an award of $100,000 for non-pecuniary loss.  In arriving at this figure the Court noted the extent and severity of the injuries which were summarized as follows:

[15] Briefly, Jack’s multiple injuries included a broken pelvis, fractured ribs, fractured vertebrae, and internal injuries resulting in hernias.  While in hospital he developed pneumonia requiring a tracheotomy.  His pelvis fracture required a metal plate and screws.  He pelvis fracture healed but he has lost 2” in height.  He now weighs less than 200 lbs and walks with a slight limp.  After six months he returned to work but is now unable to do heavy lifting.  ..

[63]         I have earlier briefly described Jack’s injuries (paras. 13, 14, and 15).  I will not repeat that description here.  His diagnosis was as follows:

(a)        Vertically instable fracture of left side of pelvis involving fractures of the sacrum and symphyseal disruption;

(b)        Stable disruption of the right SI joint; bilateral transverse process fractures of L4 and 5 vertebra; left transverse process fractures of the Li and L2 vertebra;

(c)        Cecal volvulus resulting in right hemicolectomy; facial fractures not requiring intervention;

(d)        Post trauma aspiration pneumonia with respiratory compromise requiring tracheostomy;

(e)        Fracture of left 9th and 10th rib;

(f)         Post operative problems included mild infection of lower part of the abdominal incision; incisional hernia requiring surgery; mild malunion of let hemi pelvis resulting in 1 to 1.5 centimeter shortening of left leg; degenerative changes at the lumbar spine involving L4-5 and 12-S1 levels.

(g)        Pelvic x-rays revealed slight malunion with the left hemi-pelvis being approximately 1 to 1.5 centimeters higher than the right; posterior screw is slightly bent in keeping with this shift in position; hip joints are normal on x-ray; lumbar spine x-rays show degenerative changes at L4-5 level and L5-S1 level. …

[70] In my view, an appropriate award in these circumstances for past and future pain and suffering, loss of amenities and other non-pecuniary losses is $100,000.

Gas Station Found Liable for Slip and Fall on Ice; $40,000 Non-Pecs for Dislocated Kneecap

Reasons for judgement were released this week dealing with fault and damages arising from a slip and fall incident at a North Vancouver gas station.
In this week’s case (Foley v. Imperial Oil Limited) the Plaintiff, an insurance adjuster for ICBC, slipped and fell on ice located near a car wash at an Esso Station in North Vancouver.   He suffered various injuries, the most serious being a dislocated knee.  He claimed the Defendants were liable for his injuries and sued for damages.  The Defendants disagreed arguing that they took reasonable care to keep the area clear of ice.
Mr. Justice MacKenzie agreed with the Plaintiff and found the Defendant responsible for the incident.  The evidence showed that when cars left the car wash water would drip down and sometimes freeze causing ice.  The Court found that the Defendant did not take adequate steps to warn of this known hazard.  In finding the gas station at fault the Court reasoned as follows:

[69] The defendants maintained no regular patrol for ice, but left the frequency of patrol for ice to the employees. Mr. Morrow testified that when he did patrol, he occasionally found ice, and then he would apply fresh salt. So the presence of ice would move him to reapply salt. This indicates either that he was not salting enough, or the defendants were not sufficiently addressing the problem. Both Mr. Morrow and Mr. Christian knew that dripping water from cars would wash the salt away.

[70] In short, the washing away of salt by the water dripping from cars leaving the car wash bay, and then freezing, constituted an unusual hazard of which the defendants were aware, but the plaintiff was not. Mr. Morrow knew the ice was hard to see, particularly if it was clear, and covered by water dripping from cars. He saw the ice on which the plaintiff slipped and it was covered by water. Therefore, it was hard to see.

[71] The defendants did nothing to warn users of the car wash about the risk of ice. They could easily have put out the orange warning cones that conventionally alert people to risk, or posted readily visible signs warning of the risk of ice. The expense would have been minimal. They could also have improved the drainage to avoid the washing away of the salt, or closed the car wash, as they had done on a couple of occasions before when it was cold enough for ice to form at the known area of risk. The patrol for ice, and salting could have been more frequent.

[72] In MacLeod v. Yong, [1997] B.C.J. No. 2108 (S.C.) at para. 8, Mr. Justice Burnyeat listed a series of factors that are relevant in considering whether an occupier has fulfilled the duty imposed by s. 3 of the Occupiers Liability Act. These factors include “whether an unusual danger was present, whether a warning had been provided to the plaintiff, the ease or difficulty and the expense with which the unusual danger could have been remedied, and any prior record of safe usage of the premises by others or by the plaintiff.”

[73] In considering whether the defendants have breached their duty to take reasonable care to ensure the plaintiff would be reasonably safe on the premises, I must consider all the circumstances of the case, including: the slip and fall was reasonably foreseeable and the defendants were clearly aware of it; the efforts made by the defendants depended on the judgment of employees who were prone to human error and who were occupied with other duties; and it would have been easy and inexpensive for the defendants to put up a warning sign, or orange cones at the location they knew was particularly hazardous.

The Court went on to award the Plaintiff $40,000 for his injuries which included a dislocated knee cap.  In reaching this award Mr. Justice MacKenzie provided the following reasons:

[126]     The plaintiff’s most serious injury in the slip and fall was his dislocated right patella (kneecap). He also had a minor scrape on his head and strained wrists and abrasions that were bandaged at the hospital. He took nine days off work as the combined result of his knee and wrist injuries.

[127]     The dislocated kneecap caused the plaintiff excruciating pain. There was profuse swelling and a very large bruise. It was swollen and red for a few weeks or a month or more after the fall.

[128]     The plaintiff initially required crutches because he could not bear his weight. He also used a brace afterward, and tapered off his use of both the crutches and brace. The evidence as to how long he used both varies somewhat, but is simply a matter of inaccurate recording or memory, and not the plaintiff’s dishonesty.

[129]     The wrist pain lasted a month or two, and he had a very stiff neck with pain for a week or two…

[135] The knee pain, while gradually abating, had essentially plateaued by the spring of 2007. It was getting stronger and better, but he still felt pain and instability in the right knee in the spring of 2007. He saw his doctor in the spring and summer of 2007 and the doctor recommended he see a specialist, Dr. Forsyth, at the McGavin Clinic at UBC…

[140] In the summer of 2008, the plaintiff’s symptoms improved again and he noticed fewer symptoms. The pain ranged from nothing to 20 out of 100, or quite modest discomfort. However, knee stamina for walking and standing had not improved. Sitting for prolonged periods made his knee ache. He also noticed increased joint sounds in his knee, especially when climbing stairs. The plaintiff was forthright in admitting that he had some such sounds in both knees before the slip and fall, but after it, he noticed increased joint sounds in his right knee which he still notices…

[168]     The damages awarded in each case are specific to the particular facts. In this case, the plaintiff has suffered, and continues to suffer chronic pain and loss of enjoyment of life. His condition is likely to remain stable, although there is a risk that he may develop post-traumatic arthritis in the future, which could have further negative impact on his daily activities.

[169]     Based on my findings and upon reviewing the cases, I find an award of non-pecuniary damages of $40,000 is appropriate.

Be Nice, Clear Your Ice…Fault for Slip and Fall Accidents


When I was growing up in Toronto I remember public service commercials often being played in the wintertime with the slogan “Be Nice, Clear Your Ice“.  Due to the temperate climate of Victoria, BC I have not heard a similar public service announcement for years.  That being said, regardless of where in Canada you live if you are responsible for a roadway/driveway/sidewalk/parking-lot that is covered in ice/snow reasonable steps should be taken to remove it.  Not only is removing it from your property the sensible thing to do, failing to do so can lead to a successful lawsuit and reasons for judgement were released by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, demonstrating this.
In today’s case (O’Leary v. Rupert) the Plaintiff rented a basement suite in the Defendants home.  When returning from work one day the Plaintiff parked her car in the driveway and attempted to walk up the driveway to the stairs of her basement suite.  It was dark outside and none of the lights were on.  Before reaching the stairs the Plaintiff slipped and fell.   The Plaintiff sued for damages and succeeded.  In finding the Defendants liable Mr. Justice Voith found that they did not take reasonable steps to keep the driveway clear of hazards.  Specifically the Court summarized and applied the law as follows:

[38] The obligation of the Ruperts under the Tenancy Agreement was to “maintain the residential property in a reasonable state of …. decoration and repair.” Conversely, the obligation of Ms. O’Leary under s. 10 of the Tenancy Agreement was to “maintain reasonable health, cleanliness and sanitary standards.” In saying this, I recognize that as a matter of practice Mrs. O’Leary swept and shovelled the stairs and pathway leading to her suite.

[39] Second, as I have said, it is common ground that the Ruperts maintained and shovelled the whole of their driveway without ever suggesting to Mrs. O’Leary that this obligation properly fell to her. Liability may be imposed on a party who has voluntarily undertaken to do something they were not otherwise obligated to do: see Goodwin v. Goodwin, 2007 BCCA 81, 64 B.C.L.R. (4th) 280, at para. 26. Where that voluntary task is performed negligently and causes foreseeable harm to a plaintiff, liability may arise. Once the Ruperts undertook to maintain and shovel the whole of their driveway, regardless of whether they were under a legal obligation to do so, they had a duty not to perform this task negligently.

Analysis

[40] In MacLeod, Mr. Justice Burnyeat listed a series of factors, and the legal authorities where they are referred to, that are relevant in considering whether an occupier has fulfilled the duty imposed by s. 3 of the OLA. These factors include “whether an unusual danger was present, whether a warning had been provided to the plaintiff, the ease or difficulty and the expense with which the unusual danger could have been remedied, and any prior record of safe usage of the premises by others or by the plaintiff.”

[41] In this case, the application of most of these factors, together with the factors I have referred to earlier that emanate from Zavaglia, support the conclusion that the defendants breached the duty of care they owed to the plaintiff. The driveway of the Rupert home was sloped. I have found that it was routinely slippery and that it was icy on the night of January 12, 2007. It was dark on that evening and it was routinely unlit. These factors, in combination, gave rise to a situation that was unsafe or hazardous. In addition, the defendants knew that Mrs. O’Leary was required to cross over parts of the driveway, after exiting her car, to access her suite. Her use of the areas in question and the hazards it presented were thus foreseeable.

[42] In saying this, I recognize that we live in a relatively northern climate and that our winter weather conditions often create an environment that is inherently precarious. In Brown v. British Columbia (Minister of Transportation and Highways), [1994] 1 S.C.R. 420 at p. 439, the court said “Ice is a natural hazard of Canadian winters. It can form quickly and unexpectedly. Although it is an expected hazard it is one that can never be completely prevented.”

[43] Still further, I accept that the standard or test is one of “reasonableness and not perfection”: Fournier v. Grebenc, 2003 NBQB 221, [2003] N.B.R. (2d) (Supp.) No. 28 at para. 31. Finally, I recognize that this case deals with a residential home rather than an apartment building, as in Neilson v. Bear, [1999] B.C.J. No. 86 (S.C.), or a shopping centre, as in Murphy v. Interprovincial Shopping Centres Ltd., 2004 NLSCTD 210, 241 Nfld. & P.E.I.R. 316, or a parking lot, as in Parmar v. Imperial Parking Ltd., [1977] B.C.J. No. 486 (S.C.), where the standards and procedures established by the landlord in response to winter conditions are designed to accommodate greater volumes of personal traffic. Accordingly, they are likely to be more rigorous or exacting.

[44] Nevertheless, the conditions that existed at the Rupert home were unnecessarily unsafe. I say unnecessarily unsafe because with little effort and at modest expense the conditions on the driveway could have been much improved. The simple installation of lighting that worked either on a timer or on a motion detector would have provided Mrs. O’Leary with the illumination necessary to better see where she was walking. Both devices are inexpensive. Both would have addressed the inconsistency with which the Ruperts turned on their outside lights or the occasions where, as in the case of the evening when Mrs. O’Leary fell, they had not yet arrived home from work to turn on the lights.

[45] Similarly, the use of salt or some other traction agent would have addressed the icy condition of the driveway. Though the Ruperts were diligent about shovelling their driveway, that step, without more, was not enough. Once again this step would have been relatively inexpensive and would not have been time consuming.

[46] I am also satisfied that the failure of the defendants to take these measures to address the icy and precarious condition of the driveway caused Mrs. O’Leary to fall.

[47] It is noteworthy that the Ruperts have, since Mrs. O’Leary’s accident, both taped the switch for the outside lights open and begun to apply salt to their driveway following a snowfall. It is clear that post-accident conduct cannot be viewed as an admission of negligence: Anderson v. Maple Ridge (District) (1992), 71 B.C.L.R. (2d) 68, 17 B.C.A.C. 172 (C.A.) at p. 75. Nevertheless, in Anderson, Wood J.A., as he then was, concluded that moving a stop sign after an accident was relevant to the question of whether it was difficult to see prior to the accident. Here the steps taken by the defendants post-accident are relevant to whether the driveway was dark and whether it remained slippery or icy after being shovelled.

[48] Similarly, post-accident conduct can be used as an indication of the ease with which a risk might have been avoided: Niblock v. Pac. Nat .Exhibition. (1981), 30 B.C.L.R. 20 (S.C.) at p. 25.

Mr. Justice Voith awarded the Plaintiff $25,000 for non-pecuniary damages.  Her most serious injury was a “second degree sprain of her ankle” which continued to impede the Plaintiff in some recreational activities some two years later.  There are not too many cases out there dealing with ankle sprains from the BC Supreme Court and this precedent may prove useful for others with similar injuries.

Slip and Fall Accidents in BC – What Does it Take For a Successful Lawsuit?


When you slip and fall and get injured on someone else’s property are you entitled to compensation?  The answer is not necessarily.
Injury in a slip and fall accident is only half of the equation.   The other half is fault.  The ‘occupier‘ of the property (or another defendant who owes you a duty of care) needs to be at fault for the slip and fall otherwise no successful claim for compensation can be brought.  Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court, New Westminster Registry, dealing with this area of the law.
In today’s case (Schray v. Jim Pattison Industries Ltd.) the Plaintiff fell (apparently on water) at a Save on Foods Grocery Store which was owned and operated by the Defendant.  The Plaintiff sued for her injuries alleging that the Defendant was at fault.  The Defendant brought a motion under Rule 18-A of the BC Supreme Court Rules to dismiss the case.  Madam Justice Arnold-Bailey denied the Defendant’s motion finding that the case was not suitable for summary dismissal.  Before reaching this conclusion, however, the Court summarized some of the legal principles behind a successful slip and fall lawsuit.   I reproduce these here for your convenience:

[21]        I agree that the prior summary trial judge set out the correct law in the previous application at paras. 5-10, as follows:

[5]        The duties of an occupier are set out in s. 3 of the Occupier’s Liability Act:

3(1)      An occupier of premises owes a duty to take that care that in all the circumstances of the case is reasonable to see that a person, and the person’s property, on the premises, and property on the premises of a person, whether or not that person personally enters on the premises, will be reasonably safe in using the premises.

(2)        The duty of care referred to in subsection (1) applies in relation to the

(a)      condition of the premises,

(b)      activities on the premises, or

(c)      conduct of third parties on the premises.

[6]        The Act does not create a presumption of negligence against an occupier whenever a person is injured on the premises.  To establish liability, a plaintiff must point to “some act (or some failure to act) on the part of the occupier which caused the [plaintiff’s] injury”: Bauman v. Stein (1991), 78 D.L.R. (4th) 118 at 127 (B.C.C.A.).

[7]        A similar test applies under the common law.

[8]        An occupier’s duty of care does not require the occupier to remove every possibility of danger.  The test is one of reasonableness, not perfection.  Thus, an occupier may avoid liability if it establishes that it had in place a reasonable system of inspection:  Carlson v. Canada Safeway Ltd. (1983), 47 B.C.L.R. 252 (C.A.).

[9]        The plaintiff also bears the burden of proving that the hazard in question caused the injury: Keraiff v. Grunerud (1990), 43 B.C.L.R. (2d) 228, 67 D.L.R. (4th) 475 (C.A.).

[10]      An occupier’s duty under the Act in relation to slips and falls in grocery stores was described as follows by Trainor J. in Rees v. B.C. Place (25 November 1986), Vancouver C850843 (B.C.S.C.) (quoted with approval by Hutcheon J.A. in Coulson v. Canada Safeway Ltd. (1988), 32 B.C.L.R. (2d) 212 at 214, [1989] 2 W.W.R. 264 (C.A.)):

The proceedings are brought under the Occupier’s Liability Act and that Act provides that an occupier has a duty to take that care that is reasonable in all the circumstances of the case to see that a person, in using the premises, will be reasonably safe.

The first requirement to satisfy that obligation is to take the kind of steps that were taken by the Defendants here to put into place a system to safeguard against dangerous substances being allowed to remain on the surface of the concourse. And then secondly to be sure that there was compliance by the people who were carrying out that responsibility with the system in place.

The bottom line is that the issue of fault is key.  When considering whether to sue for a slip and fall injury thought should be put to the issue of what the defendant did wrong to cause the incident or should have done to prevent it.

In my continued efforts to cross-reference the current BC Rules of Court with the soon to be in force New BC Supreme Court Civil Rules I will point out that Rule 18-A is kept intact under the new Rules and is reproduced almost identically at Rule 9-7 “Summary Trial“.

Contact

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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