Slip and Fall—Private Residences -vs- Businesses
When you go somewhere, whether to a business or to a private home, it’s usually safe to assume you’re not in any significant danger. That’s because we have premises liability which makes property owners responsible for unsafe conditions which may lead to visitors getting hurt. If the injuries are the result of owner negligence, then the owner will be held accountable.
Slip and fall—or trip and fall—accidents are the most common incidents involved in premises liability disputes. In Ontario, the Occupiers’ Liability Act (OLA) puts the onus for safety on the occupier of a property. They are bound to do whatever is reasonable to ensure the safety of people entering that property. Failing to do so can make them liable for any injuries that might arise from such negligence.
In this article, we’ll examine how owner/occupier liability plays out in slip and fall cases, taking care to point out the differences between accidents that happen in private residences as opposed to those that occur in commercial locations.
Responsibilities of property owners and occupiers
The OLA defines an occupier as anyone who physically possesses a property or is responsible for it. Therefore, an occupier could be an owner, landlord, tenant, or company. Private residences covered under the OLA include homes, apartments, and cottages as well as other amenities on those properties such as pools or ponds. Other types of properties include anything from stores, restaurants, amusement parks, hospitals, government buildings, roads, and parking lots.
Occupiers are responsible for maintaining their property free from dangers and providing adequate warning for any dangers that are unresolved (e.g., signs to indicate a wet floor or a loose handrail).
Where private residences are concerned, homeowners are considered occupiers. But liability is split with apartments. Here, the landlord is generally responsible for common areas of the building and the tenant takes responsibility for everything in their own apartment.
Assumed risk—where occupiers may not be liable
There are certain cases where an occupier is not liable for accidental injuries. One of these exceptions involves the voluntary assumption of risk. Situations like this usually involve a signed liability waiver stating that the property user assumes all risks so long as the occupier doesn’t act with reckless disregard for safety. Signing such a waiver never absolves the occupier completely. They can still be held accountable for any injury arising from neglect.
Occupiers are also off the hook if someone enters their property intending to commit a criminal act. Outlaws automatically assume all risk that might arise from their criminal enterprises. This covers minor criminal code violations—such as trespassing—as well.
Risk is also assumed on recreational properties where no admission is charged. In addition to public parks, this could include:
- private roads
- hiking trails
- wilderness areas
- golf courses closed for the season
Other cases where the occupier might not be liable
Besides assumed risks, occupiers may not be responsible for accidents caused by the negligence of independent contractors on their property. In cases like these, the occupier has a reasonable expectation that the contractor is competent and will complete the work in a way that doesn’t put others at risk.
Sometimes, people get injured because they’re careless or reckless even though the occupier has done everything to ensure their safety. In situations like these, the notion of contributory negligence comes into play. If the injured party should have foreseen the danger they were putting themselves in, they are at least partially responsible for their own injuries. Children, however, often cannot foresee such danger, leading many property occupiers to err on the side of caution when it comes to safety standards.
Occupiers are often not responsible for injuries where drugs and/or alcohol are involved unless they played an active role in the injured party’s intoxication. If the occupier couldn’t have reasonably foreseen the role intoxication would play in the accident, they may not be responsible for the resulting injuries. At the very least, the injured party will be found partially responsible for their own injuries.
When is the occupier liable?
The OLA’s application varies with respect to different classes of occupiers. Businesses are held to much higher standards than homeowners and renters because of the volume of people who visit their properties daily. If these establishments don’t have reasonable procedures in place to protect public safety, then they are responsible for accidents and injuries that occur if they:
- fail to clean up spills; salt, sand, or remove ice; or remove debris in a reasonable time
- leave stairways/walkways in a poor state of repair
- do not posting warning signs
- fail to inspect for potential hazards
- provide inadequate lighting
- provide too much alcohol
- fail to provide warning of drowning hazards
Private residents are most often held accountable when unsafe, reasonably foreseeable conditions arise that injure visitors to their property. The most common accidents that arise in civil suits of this nature involve:
- slips/trips and falls
- excessive drinking
Liability for municipalities—towns and cities—is governed by the Ontario Municipal Act (OMA). Unlike businesses, municipalities need to be proven grossly negligent before they’re found liable for someone’s injuries. Many municipal cases involve slip and fall accidents due to snow and ice. The burden of proof will be harder if the defendant is a municipality.
Injured by an unsafe property—getting compensation
If you’ve been injured by the carelessness, recklessness, or negligence of a property occupier you are entitled to file a civil suit for damages. These damages could include anything from medical expenses and rehabilitation costs to lost income and pain and suffering. Even your family members—including your spouse, children, grandchildren, parents, grandparents, and siblings—may also be entitled to compensation under the Family Law Act (FLA).
Each case gets judged on its own merits, including the losses involved, the severity of your injury, and the circumstances that led to the injury. But if a landlord, business owner, homeowner, or municipality’s neglect is responsible for your injury you could be entitled to compensation for your loss. You owe it to yourself and your loved ones to consult with an experienced personal injury lawyer to discuss the merits of your case as soon as possible.
When someone undermines your expectation of safety
You have a reasonable expectation of being safe whenever you visit a business or a private home, and any injury you or your loved ones suffer as the result of occupier negligence should be compensated. If the severity of your injury and all related expenses exceed what your insurance can cover, you may be entitled to compensation through the civil courts. Depending on where the injury was sustained and who the victim was, this compensation could come from the OLA, the OMA, or the FLA.
Regardless of the circumstances, consulting with an experienced personal injury lawyer is your first step toward getting the compensation you deserve. The right lawyer will be able to review the details of your case and let you know what you could honestly expect if your case were to go to trial.
Get our team working for you
If you’ve been hurt on property belonging to an individual, a business, or a government, you could be entitled to compensation. Contact the team of expert personal injury lawyers at Mackesy Smye today for a free, no-obligation consultation about your case.