Imagine this scene: Winter. A woman is leaving her accountant’s office. The sidewalk outside the office is coated with a layer of ice three centimeters thick. The woman slips, falls, and is seriously injured. Of course, she thinks about calling a personal injury lawyer and suing the accountant. But shouldn’t she have been more careful? Why is the accountant at fault?
Simply put, premises liability makes the occupier of a property responsible for certain injuries that may occur on that property. The law holds the occupier responsible to maintain a relatively safe environment, and when those conditions are not met and an accident or injury occurs as a result, the occupier is considered liable. From a slip-and-fall accident at a store to a dog bite on a homeowner’s property, premises liability means that the occupier is responsible.
Who Is the Occupier?
In Canada, premises liability is governed by the Occupier’s Liability Act of 1957. According to this act, an occupier is any person who exercises care and control over premises; this is not necessarily the owner, but the person most likely to have been able to prevent the accident or injury. The Act states that the occupier has a “duty to take such care as … is reasonable to see that the visitor will be reasonably safe in using the premises for the purposes for which he is invited or permitted by the occupier to be there.”
The premises can be a residence, place of business, even an empty field. The occupier can set limits on where visitors can go, and the occupier’s degree of responsibility varies; the level of liability is different, for example, if an independent contractor, child, or trespasser is injured on the premises.
There could be numerous “occupiers,” or entities legally responsible for an injury. For example, if renovation is being done on a property and someone is injured in the construction zone, the contractors working there are partially responsible for the portions of the property that are under their care. The owner or caretaker of the property would share some of the liability as well. City or municipal inspectors in charge of maintaining the safety of public areas could be held responsible if an injury occurred in a public place.
Examples of violations for which the occupier could be held responsible are:
• Poor security or inadequate lighting leading to robbery
• Loose roofing material that falls and injures someone
• Poorly maintained staircases and railings
• Exposed electrical wires
• Building code violations
• Slippery floors
• Snow and ice
• Loose carpets or floors
• Tripping hazards
• Poorly maintained sidewalks
Since the degree of liability varies depending on the circumstances, and multiple occupiers may be involved, it is best to consult a personal injury lawyer if an injury occurs on someone else’s property. For more information, additional resources can be found at Claim Accident.