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Accidents in Public Spaces: Who is Liable?

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Every time someone attends a sporting event, concert or steps inside a grocery store, they trust that the premises are well maintained. When accidents happen in spaces meant for frequent public visitation, who is liable? What responsibility does an owner or property manager have in protecting the premises and safeguarding its visitors? How does the responsibility differ when the space is Government owned?

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Defining a Public Space

A public space is open to the public and is not privately owned by a corporation or individual even though it could be owned by a municipality. Provincial or city parks and public squares fit this definition as do walking trails and footpaths. Differentiating between public and private spaces can be complicated since some properties could be privately owned even though they are open to the public. In addition, some spaces are considered public because they do not require the purchase of admission to access. Landmarks and historic sites can often walk the line between private and public.

Legally, a public space can refer to areas where the public gathers. A park is a public space but structures like stadiums, arenas, concert halls and shopping malls, while having an owner, can also be considered public since they welcome the public and rely on the revenue from admission.

Someone injured while on these premises will need to navigate through legal complexities in order to seek damages.

Common Injuries in Public Spaces

Wandering around a store or mall, it’s normal to find caution signs warning of wet floors or slippery surfaces. An owner is legally responsible to notify customers of dangerous areas or situations that could result in injury. They should also cordon off such areas to prevent people from getting close to dangerous situations. This can also include construction or uneven surfaces that could lead to slips, trips and falls.

Reasonable Care

Property owners and managers must act with prudence in maintaining premises. This requires an adherence to a standard of reasonable care and that the owner and manager proactively act against foreseeable harm.

When an injury is foreseeable, and the responsible party didn’t act to prevent it, they could be legally responsible to compensate the victims for lost income, medical treatments and other expenses incurred by the victim. Foreseeable injuries are considered preventable and those responsible for the maintenance of the space should have taken the necessary steps to protect the public from known dangers.

Not acting in compliance with their maintenance obligations could make the owner and manager of a space legally liable. Accident victims claiming negligence and seeking damages must understand who had a duty of care, and then prove that that party or parties did not adhere to a reasonable level of prudence that resulted in the accident.

Sporting Events

Despite being willing spectators, those in attendance at a sporting event are susceptible to personal injury. There are foul balls, errant pucks or sideline collisions on top of a whole array of accidents that can occur. While a spectator does assume a reasonable level of risk by attending the event, if they are injured, they could still have a case against the property’s owner and management depending on the accident.


Ontario has implemented rules of accessibility, which set the standard that property owners and landlords must meet to make their space accessible for people with disabilities. This includes the installation and maintenance of ramps, railings, elevators and escalators.

Fully accessible spaces are much safer for anyone.

Suing the Government

If you’ve been injured in a park, on a footpath, or in a playground then the party legally responsible could be a Government ministry, which makes seeking compensation more complicated. The same goes for a cyclist who is hurt on a public path due to construction that was missing warning signs or wasn’t properly cordoned off.

Negligence against the Government is often more difficult to prove as the Ontario legislature has taken steps to protect government property owners which do not apply to private property owners.

In these cases, it’s best for victims to immediately speak with a personal injury lawyer to discuss their case and find out what their legal options are.

Working with a Personal Injury Lawyer

When someone is hurt in a public or private space, it can be a long road to both recovery and compensation. The experienced team of personal injury lawyers at Mackesy Smye can help prepare a case and build a legal strategy that puts you in the best position to be awarded a fair settlement. Contact us today to see how we can help.

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If you’ve been involved in an accident in a public space, contact us for a no-obligation consultation to review the details of your case. Complete our secure online contact form, or call us at 1-905-525-2341 today.

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