Plow your driveway (or be sued)

Winter is coming and, with it, the snow will start to fly and ice will start to form. What does that mean for you? Well, it means that you should take some steps to ensure that your property is safe (and free from ice and snow) for people entering onto your property. This applies to your residence and your place of business. If you don’t, you could be sued.

Here’s the law: owners of property owe a duty of care to ensure that people entering onto their property will be reasonably safe in using their property.  Put another way, owners need to ensure that the condition of their property, such as sidewalks and steps, is reasonably safe so that visitors will not be injured. See Occupiers Liability Act, R.S.B.C. 1996, c. 337.

If a visitor falls and suffers injuries, then the owner could be taken to court and held to pay for the losses suffered by the visitor. These losses could include pain and suffering, as well as compensation for medical treatment and loss of income.

On the other hand, though, the law also requires that visitors take reasonable care for their own safety.  This includes keeping a reasonable eye out for potential hazards, such as uneven pavement, snow, and ice.

It sounds straightforward, but the law is tricky in this area: liability (who is at fault) is often a hotly contested issue (and can make a big impact on how much money an injured person receives).

To illustrate, here’s an example of a typical slip and fall case:

You need some sugar, so you drive to the supermarket and park in the lot. You exit your vehicle and you walk towards the store’s entrance. It is February and temperatures are below freezing. There is some ice covering the area of the parking lot that is between you and the store’s entrance. As you walk, you eventually cross the ice and you slip on the ground. As a result of the fall, you break your arm.

It may sound like the store is 100% at fault. But, there are some other factors that need to be considered. For example, did you see any snow or ice on the ground? In the other words, was the hazard (i.e. the ice) obvious to you? If the hazard was obvious and you could see the ice on the ground, then it wasn’t reasonable for you to walk across it, right?

Also, how fast were you walking? If you were walking quickly (or jogging) across a parking lot that was covered in snow, then you are not totally without blame, either.

And what kind of shoes were you wearing? If you were wearing summer shoes with little/no tread, rather than some aggressively treaded boots, then you weren’t acting reasonably and, of course, you are partially responsible for your own injuries.

Often, the condition/quality of footwear is an important factor in slip and fall cases. For that reason, it is typically recommended that people preserve the footwear that they were wearing the day of the fall by not wearing them until the claim is resolved.

It is not unusual for both the owner of the property and the visitor to be held responsible for the visitor’s fall and resulting injuries. For example, a visitor who failed to wear proper footwear or who failed to watch where they were walking may be held 25% (or more) responsible. And, if they are found 25% responsible, then the amount of money awarded by the court to the visitor (for the visitor’s losses) will be reduced by 25%.

As I write this, I can hear people saying, “City sidewalks aren’t always plowed/cleaned after a snowfall and can be slippery.” As will be discussed in a future column, it is difficult to sue the government (and win). Often, such cases are ‘dead-ends’. So, be extra vigilant (if you weren’t already) in walking on these sidewalks. See Knodell v. The Corporation of the City of New Westminster et al, 2005 BCSC 1316.

Be careful this winter.

**The information contained in this column should not be treated by readers as legal advice and should not be relied on without detailed legal counsel being sought.

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About the Author

Jeff Zilkowsky is a lawyer practicing at MacLean Law in the Lower Mainland and in Kelowna, and focuses his practice on family law and litigation.  

In his column, Jeff provides information about current legal events or points of interest or concern relating to the law. 

The information contained in Jeff’s column should not be used or relied upon as legal advice.

Comments are always appreciated and encouraged, so don’t hesitate to email Jeff at [email protected]

Visit Jeff’s website at www.jeffzilkowsky.com or visit the website of MacLean Law.

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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