Canada: Avoiding Winter Slip-And-Fall Negligence Claims

Last Updated: January 24 2014
Article by Keenan Woods

Given the weather in Calgary lately, with warm and cool days interspersed with an exceptionally large amount of snow, Calgarians – and probably individuals all across much of Canada – should be aware of the current status of the law in regard to liability for slip-and-falls on real property.

The most recent reported case on this issue in Alberta is Saunders v Calgary (City) 2007 CarswellAlta 1746. In that case, Nancy Saunders brought an action against the Brentwood Community Association (the City of Calgary) after breaking her ankle while walking on the premises of the community centre operated by the defendant. The weather leading up to Ms. Saunders' fall was similar to that in Calgary currently, with a mixture of thawing and freezing temperatures. The community association failed to clear snow on their pathways, leading to a build-up of snow surrounding the community centre. Ms. Saunders fell while walking across the community centre's lawn in order to avoid the icy pathways.

In that case, the Court of Queen's Bench looked at the following factors:

1. Did the community association have a snow removal policy?

2. Should the community association have reasonably foreseen risk due to their uncleared and icy pathways?

3. Did the community association exercise reasonable care in ensuring that visitors and individuals walking near the community centre were not at risk?

The Court found that the community association failed on all counts, that the community association's negligence led to Ms. Saunders' injury, and it awarded an unspecified amount of damages in favour of Ms. Saunders.

What can you (or your business) do to guard against liability?

Aside from a remarkable case in British Columbia – where a homeowner successfully sued an individual involved in a traffic collision near the homeowner's house, after the homeowner slipped on her own sidewalk when returning to her house to call 911 [Bridge v Jo, (1998) 53 BCLR (3d) 338] – the primary onus is on the homeowner or landowner where the snow and ice has built up.

In Calgary, Street Bylaw 20M88, section 67 requires that owners completely remove snow and ice from pathways and sidewalks adjacent to their property within 24 hours after the snow stops falling. While following this bylaw may lead a homeowner or landowner to avoid a fine from the City for the cost of removing snow on the owned property, following this bylaw will not protect against a claim of negligence.

In order to best protect yourself and your business against a claim of negligence, you should look to address the factors mentioned above in the Saunders case:

1. Develop a snow removal policy for your business;

a. For example, clear any snow build-up at the beginning and end of the business day; or

b. Hire a snow removal company (ensure the snow removal company has liability insurance);

2. If there is a reasonably foreseeable risk to passersby (such as ice or snow buildup throughout the day), address the risk as soon as reasonably possible;

a. The City of Calgary offers free salt and sand for icy pathways;

3. Exercise reasonable care in ensuring that passersby are not put at risk when on or near your property;

a. Take the time to examine the sidewalks and pathways on your property to ensure that there is no snow or ice buildup.

An interesting development for landlords arose in Ontario in 2010 (Hunter v Anderson, 2010 BCSC 1037), wherein a tenant successfully sued a landlord after slipping and falling on icy stairs leading to the tenant's residence, despite the fact the tenant had agreed to clear ice and snow from those same stairs in exchange for a decrease in rent. The Court in Ontario still found the landlord 25% liable for damages, given that it was the landlord's ultimate responsibility to ensure the stairway was cleared properly. Given the results in this case, landlords (whether commercial or residential) should also exercise reasonable care in ensuring that their tenants clear ice and snow buildup on their property, even if there is a contract in place requiring the tenant to clear snow.

The only surefire way to guard against liability for slip-and-fall injuries in Canada is likely to avoid owning property altogether. Barring that, a move to California or Florida may be a safer bet.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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