As the dead of winter sets in, slipping and falling on ice will, unfortunately, become a common occurrence. This article will discuss select case law on slip and fall injuries with a particular focus on case law where slip and falls on snow and ice were at issue.
In Manitoba, under The Occupiers' Liability Act, owners, or "occupiers" that have control of a property have a responsibility to ensure that the property is properly maintained.
Owners/occupiers owe a duty to people on the property to take
care to ensure that the person will be reasonably safe while on the
The duty of care does not assign automatic liability in a slip-and-fall case. However, the person who has fallen must be able to prove the occupier failed to address or remedy a hazard, or failed to practice reasonable standards of care.
Section 3 of The Occupiers Liability Act reads as follows:
3(1) An occupier of premises owes a duty to persons entering on the premises... to take such care as, in all circumstances of the case, is reasonable to see that the person... will be reasonably safe while on the premises.
Application of duty
3(2) The duty referred to in subsection (1) applies in respect of
(a) the condition of the premises;
(b) activities on the premises; and
(c) the conduct of third parties on the premises.
Robertson v 6177655 Manitoba Inc. et al, 2020 MBQB 24
In this recent Manitoba case, a plaintiff slipped and fell on ice in a parking lot of an apartment building. The plaintiff suffered a separated left shoulder. The plaintiff commenced an action for damages against the landlord and property manager for injuries suffered in the slip and fall. However, the action was dismissed.
The defendants' maintenance system for the parking lot was considered to be reasonable because it included multiple daily checks, shovelling and the application of sand and salt by resident managers, reporting of any issues to the property manager, and engagement of outside contractors on an intermittent basis.
There was no snow in the parking lot on the day of the fall. There had been freezing rain on the day before the fall. It was probable that the resident manager inspected and sanded the parking lot on the morning of the plaintiff's fall.
The Court explained that the manager would have traversed and inspected the parking lot more than once per day, to take garbage to the bins and would have conducted further inspections to check for after-effects of freezing rain. Ultimately, the defendants had a reasonable maintenance system for the parking lot, which was followed.
In Robertson, the court provides some commentary on the standard to be expected. The court quoted the Manitoba case of Sandberg v. Steer Holdings Ltd. (1987), 45 Man. R. (2d) 264 (Man. Q.B.):
In Sandberg the court stated:
An occupier's duty to take reasonable care is to be judged not by the result of his efforts but by the efforts themselves....
It must be noted that even though Mr. Hrousalas was of the opinion that the parking lot did not require attention, he also very candidly admitted that sand, properly applied, would have improved the footing, which is exactly what was done to a sidewalk adjacent to the entrance to the restaurant. I am not prepared to find that defendant should have salted or sanded all of the parking lots, but it would have been reasonable to treat a portion thereof sufficient to insure the safety of the patrons of the restaurant.
I realize full well that ice is a common occurrence in a Manitoba winter. I also realize full well that icy conditions will never be totally eliminated. It does not stand however that occupiers are not bound to do anything to minimize the situation...
In Robertson, the court also included the following quote from Lebedynski v. Westfair Foods Ltd., 2000 MBQB 144, another Manitoba decision:
In Lebedynski v. Westfair Foods Ltd., 2000 MBQB 144 (Man. Q.B.), the court stated:
Westfair has the burden of showing that it took reasonable steps to see that its customers were reasonably safe while on the premises, which includes both having a reasonable maintenance policy and ensuring that its employees followed that policy.
As stated in Zimmer v. Manitoba Housing & Renewal Corp., 2006 MBQB 269 (Man. Q.B.):
The standard of care imposed on an occupier is one of reasonableness and not perfection.
Robertson also cited the case of Baker v Rupert Acres,  O.J No. 363. In Baker, the court wrote:
It has been held that it is necessary for the occupier to inspect and protect lawful users if the conditions become dangerous by blocking access to dangerous areas in the lot, by sanding or salting, or by any other reasonable and inexpensive means...
The standard of care may be met if there are unusual weather conditions and if the occupier had procedures in place for the clearing, salting sanding and inspection of its premises.
Enns v. Rosenort Housing Corp. Inc. et al 2020 MBQB 124
In Enns, the plaintiff claimed to have slipped and fallen on ice in the driveway of a building owned and occupied by the defendant ("R Inc"). The plaintiff broke their ankle and had to undergo surgery. The plaintiff commenced an action claiming that R Inc. was liable for damages as the owner of the building. The plaintiff also claimed that the defendant municipality was responsible for sanding the parking lot, driveway and sidewalks of the property and that the defendant maintenance contractor was responsible for clearing the parking lot and driveway of snow and ice.
The Court explained that R Inc. did have an affirmative duty to take steps to address icy conditions on areas of the driveway that would be traversed by people seeking to enter the building. The Court explained that R Inc. had a reasonable system in place to monitor and respond to weather conditions that might render premises snowy and icy. Maintenance staff were tasked with monitoring conditions, removing snow, and applying sand or salt to ice that might form near entrances to the building. Each entrance was equipped with sand, salt, or other aggregate material, and staff and others were encouraged to apply it when needed. R Inc. contracted with a maintenance contractor to remove snow and ice from their driveway by mechanical means. Ultimately, the plaintiff failed to produce evidence to show that R Inc.'s arrangements were not employed in the days leading to their fall.
Zimmer v Manitoba Housing Renewal Corp, 2006 MBQB 269
In Zimmer, the plaintiff was a tenant who lived in a unit located in the centre of the defendant landlord's housing complex. The common sidewalk in front of the tenant's residence was frequently used. On the morning in question, the complex's superintendents conducted their usual walkabout to prioritize the work to be done. Witnessing treacherous conditions created by an ice storm, the superintendents followed protocol and immediately began sanding the sidewalks. The perimeter sidewalks were sanded first since they were most frequently used. At 12:30 p.m. the tenant rode his bicycle onto the common sidewalk in front of his unit, he fell and fractured his hip.
The plaintiff saw no evidence that the sidewalk had been sanded. The entire complex was sanded by 1:30 p.m., but the sidewalk in front of the tenant's unit was likely not sanded when the plaintiff fell.
The plaintiff brought an action against the landlord for failing to take reasonable steps to keep the sidewalks safe contrary to its duty under s. 3 of The Occupiers' Liability Act. However, the action was dismissed as the Manitoba Court of Queen's Bench held that the landlord made reasonable efforts to make sidewalks reasonably safe for the tenant's use as required by Act. The superintendents were in the process of sanding sidewalks, including the portion in front of the tenant's house. The sanding was a reasonable response to icy conditions and the sanding process was carried out in a reasonable fashion.
DeMeyer v. National Trust Co.,  M. J. No. 313 (Q. B.)
In DeMeyer, the plaintiff fell on a parking lot when attending a bank and fractured her ankle. The parking lot was extremely icy. The bank had contracted with a maintenance company to maintain the parking lot.
The bank employee telephoned the maintenance company, regarding the icy conditions, prior to the plaintiff's accident. However, the lot was not sanded until 4 hours later. The maintenance company knew that the bank drew heavy traffic and that it required regular inspections and reasonably prompt removal of any snow or ice which constituted a hazard to the public.
The system of inspection, which was otherwise reasonable, was not performed on the day that the plaintiff fell and injured herself. The bank was negligent within the meaning of the Act, by failing to take reasonable care to see to the safety of the plaintiff and other members of the public.
The negligence consisted of either the maintenance company failing to have attended for inspection or failing to have performed the sanding or snow removal duties, to have alerted the subcontractor that the situation was urgent after receiving the phone call from the bank employee, or by having followed up within a reasonable time after receipt of the call.
In the circumstances, a finding of liability will be more likely to exist if the occupier either
- Failed to have a reasonable system in place to ensure the safety of their occupants;
- Had a reasonable system but did not take steps to ensure that the system was complied with / acted upon.
- Did not take reasonable steps given the circumstances to ensure that occupiers were safe.
In most circumstances, there is certainly some expectation on occupiers to ensure that icy walkways are dealt with properly. However, it is important to note that the expectation or standard is not "perfection".
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.