Slips, Trips and Falls – Who’s Responsible?

The provincial Occupiers Liability Act attempts to protect persons from injury when they enter onto land or into a building. It does this by requiring property owners and tenants to ensure that their property will be reasonably safe for those entering on to the property. When someone is injured because of an unsafe condition on land or in a building, the owner or tenant of that land or building may be responsible for compensating the injured person for their loss. Often times, the insurance of an owner or tenant will cover claims stemming from injuries sustained while using the property.

The owner or tenant’s duty to keep their property reasonably safe does not require perfection. An owner or tenant seeking to keep their property reasonably safe will commonly be required to do the following: wipe up spills, maintain proper lighting, remove debris, shovel snow, and repair railings.

Those entering on to a property must also exercise reasonable care in using the property. Reasonable care does not require perfection – just what would be reasonable in the circumstances. For example, where someone could have avoided their injury by looking where they were going, a Court may reduce the compensation awarded to that person.

These principles were illustrated in the recent case of Etson v. Loblaw Companies Limited (Real Canadian Superstore) 2010 BCSC 1865, where a customer at a supermarket tripped and fell over the corner of a wooden pallet. The wooden pallet was damaged such that there was split board sticking out from one corner. The Court determined that the store was responsible for the customer’s injuries because the customer tripped over that protruding split board. The Judge found that the incident could easily have been prevented either by inspection of the pallet, or by stacking the product on the pallet in a more uniform fashion along the edges of the pallet.

The Judge also found that the customer could have avoided the fall by looking where she was walking.

In the end, based on how both the store and the customer could each have avoided the accident with more care, the Judge apportioned 50 percent of the fault on the store and 50 percent of the fault on customer. As such, the Judge reduced the customer’s compensation by 50%. The case demonstrates how the courts frequently apportion responsibility for Occupiers Liability Act incidents between the owner or tenant and the injured party.

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