Falling under the Occupiers Liability Act, the basic definition or purpose of Premises Liability in Ontario is that home and property owners are legally liable and responsible for ensuring their property fosters and promotes an environment of safety for other individuals within reason.
What is considered to be a property where the occupier would be liable for the safety of others? Some examples include:
- Any parks, museums or recreational facilities;
- Government buildings, roads, property
- Private homes and their surrounding property
- Restaurants and stores
What kind of situations is it reasonably expected that an occupier to be responsible for? Some examples include but are not limited to:
An excellent example Premises Liability would be making sure your driveway is clean of snow and ice during the winter so if a delivery man is coming to drop off a package he does not risk slipping on the ice and injuring himself. If the driveway has not been cleaned properly and it results in the delivery man becoming injured, he is within his rights to sue the home owner for damages for negligent behaviour.
Compensation can be granted in the form of lost income (past and future), medical fees and bills, rehabilitation fees, monetary sum for pain and suffering etc. The type and amount of compensation will vary depending on the severity of the injury, the situation and the prognosis for the future. Insurance companies and lawyers generally handle these claims out of court, but in some cases they do go to trial to be ruled on by a judge.
Under the Occupiers Liability Act there are some exceptions and certain situations where the property owner cannot be held liable for damages. They are as follows:
- Poor lighting on the property which results in limited visibility;
- No clear signs or warnings of hazard or danger (if there is something dangerous on the property, for instance a violent guard dog or toxic waste);
- Not clearing snow, ice or other dangerous debris from driveways, walkways or pedestrian pathways;
- Broken stairs, crumbling structures etc.
- Swimming pools not cordoned off safely.
- If an individual is on someone’s property without permission i.e. trespassing or denied entry.
- If the individual on the property is carrying out a criminal activity or they went on the property with the intention of committing a crime.
- If there are danger or warning signs in place cautioning people against entry or telling them to be careful and these warnings are ignored.
In each of these three situations, if the individual slipped and fell on the aforementioned patch of ice, the homeowner cannot be held responsible since in these cases it is assumed the individual knew there may be risks associated with their behaviour and intentions and they were willing to assume those risks anyways.
- If the individual exhibits careless or reckless behaviour which the homeowner could not have predicted. For example if someone stumbles on to a property heavily intoxicated or high on drugs and becomes injured through a fall or accident. This is a situation a homeowner could have no way of predicting or foreseeing.
- If an individual visits a property for recreational purposes where there is no fee, for instance a private road, a hiking trail, a farm etc. and they get injured; the property owner may not be liable.
- Finally if the injury to an individual was caused by a third party’s negligent behaviour, once again the property owner may not be at fault. For example, if the homeowner hired a snow removal company to remove the snow and ice from their driveway and the company failed to do so or did it poorly, then the delivery man’s injury is not the homeowners fault since they took the reasonable steps necessary to ensure their property was ‘safe’ and it was the contractor who dropped the ball.
There are of course exceptions to all these exceptions, especially if a child is injured since their level of maturity and understanding differs greatly from an adult’s and they cannot be reasonably expected to read signs or be aware of a hazardous situation.
Given the complex nature of premises liability the best thing to do if you find yourself in a situation where you feel you may be or could be held liable for an injury is to contact a lawyer. They will walk you through your rights and responsibilities and be able to guide you on what steps to follow.