Personal Injuries at Provincial Campgrounds – Who’s at Fault?
As the days lengthen with the approach of summer Canadians are eager to unpack their camping gear. We always look forward to the wonders of camping. But with our enthusiasm for the return of warm weather, it is important to remember that it is not without its risks. The higher levels of physical activity common in summer also lead to a greater risk of personal injury.
There are essentially two seasons in Canada: summer and waiting for next summer.
For many of us, camping is at the very core of the Canadian summer experience. We devote much of our holiday time and free weekends to visiting the parks and campsites run by Ontario’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry. The Ministry runs over 19,000 campsites across 334 parks spread over 8.2 million hectares. These parks and campsites draw in at least 1.5 million campers and 9 million daily visitors annually.
What if someone gets injured at one of these campsites? Who is responsible for healthcare costs, lost income and other expenses involved when someone gets hurt in a provincial park? Are these parks “use at your own risk,” or is there some sort of government accountability for the Ontario provincial park system?
In this article, we will look at government-run public attractions such as provincial parks and campgrounds with special attention to negligence in injury cases. If your injury is the result of negligence on behalf of the province, you could be entitled to compensation.
The government and duty of care
There is an old saying: “You can’t fight city hall.” It goes back to a time when governments were essentially untouchable from a legal perspective. They did what they did, and if you got hurt somehow there was not much you could do about it.
Fortunately, we live in more enlightened times now and the government’s immunity from liability is a thing of the past. Most Canadian provinces, including Ontario, now have liability legislation in place. These laws apply if any agent or officer of the province wrong anyone through a breach of duty regarding ownership, occupation, possession or control of provincial property or any breach of a related statute, regulation or bylaw.
What that all boils down to is this: The province owes a duty of care when they operate parks and campgrounds unless there is a statutory provision that gives them a special exemption. Therefore, if you get hurt on provincial property you may be able to hold the province accountable for your injuries.
The Occupier’s Liability Act and government attractions
In Ontario, occupiers of private property owe a general duty of care when anyone accesses their property under the Occupier’s Liability Act. With Ontario provincial parks and campgrounds, the occupier is the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry. If someone gets hurt on private property, then the test of “reasonableness” is applied. Did the occupier take every reasonable step to prevent the injury from happening? If not, they could be found negligent.
Specific statutes determine which level of government is responsible for the operational upkeep and maintenance of all provincial property. This legislation basically says that the Ministry has a duty to meet certain operating standards in its parks and campgrounds regarding cleanliness, sanitation, security, and enforcement.
What this means for you is that if you or a loved one is injured in a provincial park or campground the government could owe you damages, if a court sees their actions as negligent or if a breach of duty of care was reasonably foreseeable.
Risk and contributory negligence
Getting injured at a provincial park or campground is no guarantee that the government will be found negligent or in breach of its’ duty of care. Again, all they must do is take reasonable steps to ensure your safety. That said, if you are injured while engaging in obviously risky activity on provincial land, the government could still be at least partially accountable.
For instance, let’s say you are injured on an advanced hiking trail. There are posted signs advising you that the trail is “use at your own risk” and you should not be on it if it is beyond your abilities. You attempt something beyond your abilities and get hurt in the process. Even then, the court could rule that the province failed to adequately monitor risks and injuries on the trail.
Regarding duty of care, the Occupier’s Liability Act states that the occupier of a premises has a duty to take such care to see that persons entering the premises and the property they bring on the premises are reasonably safe while there. This applies whether the danger is caused by the condition of the premises or by an activity carried out there.
Doing something that risks injury or death may factor into the damages though. This is a legal concept called contributory negligence. In a nutshell, it means that any damages you are awarded in a lawsuit are reduced by the amount you were at fault for your own injuries. So, if you successfully sue for a million dollars in damages, but the court determines that you were 60% at fault for the accident, you would only be awarded $400,000. While this might look like a considerable sum, it may not be enough to cover a lifetime of lost wages and medical care.
Even in a situation where occupier negligence is involved, it is important to take reasonable precautions to stay safe as well.
Play it safe and don’t wait
Government agencies in charge of public attractions have strategies in place for risk management. They oversee regular safety audits to make sure public safety is a top priority.
But despite all these precautions, serious personal injuries occur on these premises, including death. When this happens, some complicated legal issues could arise. Every situation is different, but your case could involve short notice periods or special legal requirements that must be satisfied before you can file suit. For these reasons, you should consult with an experienced personal injury lawyer as soon as possible.
Note that if you are injured on provincial property, you have 10 days to give the province written notice of your injury. This notice should be sent directly to the office of the Ontario Attorney General. If this notice is not submitted on time, you will not be able to move forward with your lawsuit. A reputable personal injury lawyer will be able to make sure you get all of your paperwork in on time and do not miss any deadlines.
Get the most out of summer
The return of summer means the return to outdoor activities for many of us. Making the most of the public parks and campgrounds operated by the Province of Ontario is a great way to make it a summer to remember.
The key to enjoying this warmer weather is to stay safe. Err on the side of caution, especially when minors are concerned. If you or someone you love gets hurt, know that the legal system is on your side. If government managers or operators are found negligent in fulfilling their duty of care, the law has provisions to allow you to sue for damages. Consult a reputable personal injury lawyer as soon as possible if you think you have a case.
Have you been injured in a provincial park?
If you or a loved one has been injured in a provincial park, timing is critical. You must notify the Attorney General of your injury within 10 days. The experienced team of personal injury lawyers at Mackesy Smye can help you get your paperwork filed on time. Use the link below to contact Mackesy Smye Lawyers for a free no-obligation consultation about your case.